March 29, 2021 - No. 23

Quebec Teachers Provide Themselves with Strike Mandates
to Compel the Government to Negotiate

All Out to Support the Teachers' Fight for Their Rights and a Human-Centred Education System!

Our Demands Are Essential to Solving the Crisis in Education - Interview, Geneviève Royer

Listen to Quebec Health Care Workers!
Labour Court Vindicates Workers' Demands for N95 Masks
Anniversary of Unacceptable Quebec Ministerial Order -- Scrap the
- Pierre Soublière

Quebec Teachers Provide Themselves with Strike Mandates
to Compel the Government to Negotiate

All Out to Support the Teachers' Fight for Their Rights and a Human-Centred Education System!

The 122,000 teachers in Quebec's school service centres (formerly school boards) have given themselves strike mandates to compel the government to negotiate and meet their demands for the renewal of their collective agreements which expired on March 30, 2020. The two teachers' federations representing preschool, elementary, secondary, vocational and adult education teachers -- the Federation of Teachers' Unions (FSE-CSQ) and the Autonomous Teachers' Federation (FAE) -- have reached the conclusion that the government is intent on dictating their working conditions and wages. CEGEP teachers and support and professional staff who are members of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) have also given themselves a strike mandate, starting with a one-day strike on March 30, if the government does not provide additional resources to improve their working conditions. The government is using the pandemic as an opportunity to impose conditions on teachers that they consider unacceptable and to attempt to silence them. The teachers reject this dictate and are demanding a negotiated solution based on their demands for a significant improvement in their working conditions, which are the learning conditions of young people.

Workers' Forum firmly supports the teachers' struggle for their rights and calls on all workers to give them their full support. In fighting for the conditions they need to teach and for their right to determine those conditions, they are defending society against the rule by decree of government executives serving narrow private interests. If teachers decide that they have no choice but to go on strike to break the impasse, let us give them all the support we can.

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Our Demands Are Essential to Solving
the Crisis in Education

Geneviève Royer is a secondary school remedial teacher in Montreal.

Workers' Forum: Teachers employed by the school service centres put forward their demands for changes to their collective agreement in October 2019, and the agreement expired on March 30, 2020. What is the status of negotiations with the government?

Geneviève Royer: The two organizations that represent the approximately 122,000 teachers in Quebec have both taken strike votes. On February 1, the Federation of Teachers' Unions (FSE-CSQ) adopted a mandate for rotating strikes over five days, and the member unions of the Autonomous Teachers' Federation voted for an unlimited general strike starting May 31.

In 67 meetings, government officials have had ample opportunity to hear our demands, which were tabled, as you said, in October 2019. But our negotiators are being told by their employer counterparts, "We don't have the mandate to negotiate that." Now, if the education experts, if the people who work every day, have no power to change the situation, to have a say in the decisions that are made, we have a serious problem.

It can be said that after all these negotiation meetings and 12 mediation sessions, the only thing that has changed is that teachers are now in a legal strike position. It is the government that is inciting teachers to take this action. The newspapers have already begun to talk only about the strike issue and not about our working conditions. But what is it that the public needs to know? It must be what the teachers have proposed to the government, which is responsible for the education system. We say that reducing the number of students per class, increasing direct services to students (more educators, speech therapists, etc.), creating specialized classes for students with special needs, is what is needed to improve our working conditions which are the the learning conditions of our students.

It is important to know that the number of students in Quebec who, according to the criteria of the Ministry of Education, are entitled to educational services for at-risk students and students with disabilities, adjustment or learning difficulties (EHDAA) increased by 71.8 per cent from 2001 to 2016. In 2018-2019, there were 216,821 EHDAA students in our schools, and of these, 164,936 or 76 per cent, are in regular classes, not special classes.

The government is engaging in provocations against teachers in the negotiations regarding our wages and our working conditions. For example, it wants to add wording to the collective agreement saying that it is "the responsibility of the teacher to adapt his or her pedagogical approach according to the needs and abilities of each student entrusted to him or her." This will allow the government to deny services to teachers and students on the basis that it is the teachers' responsibility to implement personalized intervention strategies. The government is also proposing to add two reasons why class sizes will be allowed to exceed planned ratios. None of these conditions address the mental, physical or educational well-being of students and teachers at a time when we are all witnessing multiple forms of distress in our schools.

WF: Do you want to say something in conclusion?

GR: We want our proposals to be discussed in the public domain. We feel that we are taking up our social responsibility by raising the real problems in education and proposing solutions based on our expertise and experience. The question for us is not whether or not to go on strike. The issue is that it is our working conditions and our demands for change that must be publicly discussed and that the government must be held accountable for its repeated refusal to negotiate with us.

(Photos: WF, S. Osbourne. Translated from original French by WF.)

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Listen to Quebec Health Care Workers!

Labour Court Vindicates Workers'
Demands for N95 Masks

On March 23, three unions -- the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), the Interprofessional Health Federation of Quebec (FIQ) and the FIQ-private sector -- announced that they had won their case before the Administrative Labour Court (TAT) with regards to N95 protective masks. The TAT acknowledges that the precautionary principle should have been applied considering the serious risk of aerosol transmission of the virus which has been widely proven. It agrees with the unions in their demands that their employers in the health system and the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) must act responsibly in protecting workers.

As of now, employers in the health care system must provide all personnel caring for residents suspected of having COVID-19 with respiratory N95 masks, in warm zones as well as in hot zones. Until now, employers and the CNESST refused to apply the precautionary principle and to provide health workers with the adequate protective equipment. In the first wave alone, 13,500 health workers were infected. The risk of being infected by COVID-19 was ten times higher than for the rest of the population.

The TAT stated that employers must set up warm and hot zones with teams assigned to each zone and reiterated the importance of the precautionary principle. In light of this decision, unions point out that the Vigi-Santé centre and the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre in the Outaouais violated their obligations pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and that the government showed indifference by refusing to be proactive as prescribed by law. They are revolted that they have had to fight so that a judge would finally acknowledge the obvious. The National Director of Public Health passed an order to hinder access to N95 masks and continuously challenged the legal actions taken by unions regarding their health and security concerns at the workplace. In spite of the risk of aerosol spread of the virus and the repeated requests of unions to apply the precautionary principle, the government and managers relentlessly refused to consider their demands.

The unions state: "It was our responsibility to ensure that the health and safety of the healthcare professionals and health of the residents was respected. In the face of a potentially deadly threat for which the world has deployed extraordinary health measures, the government and employers have tolerated that those who are the backbone of the network are sent to the front lines with the bare minimum to protect themselves and their patients. They were particularly negligent when they were responsible for a clientele known to be very vulnerable to the virus. They should have made it their priority."

The Quebec government must be held to account for its criminal negligence, a course it is pursuing in spite of all the evidence of their harmful activities, passing laws such as Bill 59 which, rather than helping to improve health and safety at the place of work, will make the situation worse, further endangering workers and those in their care.

(Photos: NNU, FIQ)

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Anniversary of Unacceptable Quebec
Ministerial Order -- Scrap the Order!

March 21, on the first anniversary of the enactment of Ministerial Order 007 and following the government announcement that it would renew the order, the Quebec Interprofessional Federation of Health (FIQ) officially asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister of Quebec as well as with the Minister of Health and Social Services. An FIQ communiqué points out: "One year ago today was enacted one of the most freedom-destroying Ministerial Orders in the history of labour laws." This order suspended the application of the collective agreement in order to secure the required personnel to face the anticipated hospital overcrowding due to COVID-19. The union observes that the number of hospitalizations has gone down and the number of cases is stable in Quebec. Yet, the order is still in force. Nurses feel betrayed and consider that the order was to be used as an exception under precise circumstances. Unfortunately, it is still being used indiscriminately by a large number of health care managers.

The union wants to put an end to Ministerial Order 007 and discuss alternative solutions with regards to working conditions as upheld in the collective agreement of health professionals and, more specifically, make sure they will have holidays next summer. This order stipulates that health system managers have the authority, among other things, to suspend or cancel all forms of leave including holidays which were already booked, which is what they have been doing for the past year.

The FIQ points out that abusive use of Order 007 has had devastating effects on the morale of health professionals, leading to burn-outs and to workers leaving the profession in droves. It wants to avoid at all costs that the health staffing crisis gets worse than it already is. It gives examples of how in certain regions such as the Outaouais the increase in full-time employees (on the basis of forcing part-time workers to work full time) has been maintained, 12-hour shifts are still in force in a number of centres and relocation to different shifts continues to be imposed.

The FIQ states that it was never an issue that Order 007 would be used as a threat to cancel holidays in case of staff shortages. It says, with regards to the measures taken against health workers: "They have violated our rights, without the slightest goodwill, without taking into account the efforts of health professionals to balance work, family and personal life. The least we would expect would be that we be shown some concern, some respect, and that no efforts would be spared so that we feel listened to and supported, including re-establishing acceptable working conditions."

March 26, 2021. FIQ Rally Against Ministerial Order 007.

In a press conference in Trois-Rivières, Prime Minister Legault continued to show total disregard for the legitimate preoccupations of health professionals and the destructive impact of their conditions on the health system itself. He upheld that the government would still have to keep the emergency order in place and that he was counting on his Health Minister to "bring the FIQ to its senses." "No one can achieve the impossible," he added.

How can it be "impossible" for a government to simply sit down with health workers and discuss the alternative solutions they are proposing to improve both their working conditions and the health conditions of the population? It is the Legault government which finds it impossible to take up its social responsibilities. It is definitely not impossible to imagine what it would be like to have a government made up of workers who can and do most diligently take up their social responsibilities and seek solutions beneficial to those who do the work and for the general well-being of society.

(Photos: FIQ. Quotations translated from original French by WF.)

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