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2 Quebec striking teachers' federations lament lack of progress at bargaining table

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The two federations representing striking elementary and high school teachers — the FSE and the FAE — lament the recent lack of progress made at the bargaining table.

The Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), however, considers that it has made "a very major concession" about the assignment of teachers to classes.

On Monday, the CSQ-affiliated Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement, which represents 95,000 teachers, and the FAE, which represents 66,000, say there has been little progress on the issue closest to their hearts: class composition.

"We need balanced classes again," said FSE president Josée Scalabrini at a press briefing in Quebec City. "If they don't do something, it's going to make the teacher shortage worse."

Integrating children with adjustment or learning difficulties into regular classes has increased teachers' workload, who do not always have the required support or training.

The Quebec government says it is aware of the problem, but in a context of teacher shortages and difficulty in recruiting professionals specialized in supporting these children, it says it cannot reduce teacher-student ratios. Instead, the government proposes other solutions, such as the addition of 4,000 "classroom assistants."

However, the unions counter that these classroom assistants would be insufficient in number and that they cannot replace the help of a qualified professional in speech therapy or psycho-education, for example.

NO TIME FOR FURTHER CONCESSIONS

The FAE believes it has already made enough concessions in its negotiations with Quebec.

FAE President Mélanie Hubert revealed on Monday that she had softened her position on assigning teachers to classes in June rather than August, to avoid the back-to-school rush. She proposed a "mechanism" that would have enabled "the greatest possible number" of teachers to be assigned in June while leaving some leeway for August.

But that was not enough, and the government asked her to make other compromises. "We made a very big concession," but without reciprocating, she said. "FAE members have been cheated."

Dissatisfied, Hubert said the FAE is continuing its indefinite strike, which began on Nov. 23, but will not shy away from negotiations with Quebec.

"We've told the government that we don't think it's time to make any more concessions. So we don't intend to go back to seeking mandates from our authorities. However, we're not in the business of folding our arms, sitting on our hands and waiting," Hubert added.

The FAE has still not asked for conciliation, as the inter-union Common Front has done, with some success, according to her. Hubert does not rule out doing so but points out that mediation last summer was unsuccessful.

"We'll see if our authorities consider it," she concluded. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 11, 2023.  

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