MONTREAL -- A union representing more than 45,000 teachers in Quebec is warning Premier Francois Legault not to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to “attempt a coup in the context of the exploratory negotiation phase” between the government and the teachers union.

The FAE (Fédération autonome de l’enseignement) sent out a news release Saturday reminding the premier that Quebec agreed to a four-week exploratory phase to identify solutions to teachers’ concerns about their work environments before the crisis hit, and the union expects the government to respect the agreement.

“We all know that when the situation recovers, these difficulties will continue to exist in schools and centres,” the release reads.

“Premier François Legault must assure the teaching staff that he intends to respect the rhythm necessary to conduct this exploratory phase,” said FAE president Sylvain Mallette.

Teachers responded to the order from Sante-Quebec to close down all schools while the pandemic spread, and have acted in solidarity with the government and Quebecers. The FAE release says teachers will continue to work with the province through the pandemic, but real structural issues will return that need to be addressed.

“The difficult working conditions will not disappear with the reopening of educational establishments,” the release reads. “Quebec teachers remain the lowest paid in Canada. The FAE therefore calls for the reorganization of the salary scale to catch up with the Canadian average. This would attract and retain teachers in the profession.”

Mallette added that teachers’ workloads will only increase when schools reopen causing additional stress on already overworked educators.

“The teachers, whose workload is already very heavy, will be called upon to support many students who will still experience the effects of the crisis that is raging at the moment while the conditions under which they will have to do it will not match the height of this task,” he said. “A plan to allow students to upgrade, including recovery and targeted supports, will need to be put in place.”

The public health crisis cannot be an excuse, the FAE says, to trample on workers’ rights to negotiate in good faith.