In court filing, two teachers argue Quebec has failed to adequately support, pay or protect them
An empty teacher's desk is seen at the front of a empty classroom at in 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
MONTREAL -- Two Quebec teachers are asking the Superior Court to recognize their claims that they are being exploited, underpaid and victims of systemic violence in the workplace because they are women.
Lawyers from Levesque Jurisconsulte Inc. have been hired to represent Genevieve Broleau and Heloise Landry and on Jan. 7 filed for permission to represent the women in a class-action lawsuit against the Quebec Ministries of Education and Labour.
The suit argues that women are over-represented in the education network (over 70 per cent) and that their Canadian and Quebec Charter rights are being violated due to alleged neglect and violence within the workplace, all while they say they are being underpaid.
"They experience an overload of work, an increase in the number of hours per work week and the absence of breaks," the suit reads.
The claims of exploitation, the suit argues, undermine female teachers' charter rights.
The Quebec Ministries of Education and Labour had no comment on the case, as it’s before the courts.
"Teachers are exhausted, anxious and depressed due to the workload, resulting in early retirement, resignations and sick leave," the suit reads.
The suit lists lack of support staff, increase in hours coupled with a decrease in breaks, and no response to requests for more resources as examples of how they say their rights are being denied.
"The average salary of a teacher is lower than the average salary of a city bus driver," said attorney Claude Levesque, one of the lawyers working on the case. "The government should be giving the example about true equity in terms of fairness in salaries and elimination of gender discrimination. The government is not doing their job on that end."
The suit also alleges that employees in predominately female careers such as education are "more likely to experience system violence than their male counterparts."
"Teachers experience verbal and physical violence, intimidation and often work in an atmosphere of conflict," the suit reads.
The suit claims that there were nearly 2,300 complaints of physical assault or psychological violence against female teachers by their students in Quebec between 2012 and 2015.
"Very often, management encourages teachers not to file a complaint and suffer in silence this violence against them," the suit reads.
"However, some incidents are so serious or repetitive that teachers are afraid to enter their classroom and experience post-traumatic shock."
This culture exists, the lawyers argue, while they say female teachers are paid less than male-equivalent occupations.
The suit is a civil case, which explains the lack of a union voice on the part of the defendants.
Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers president Heidi Yetman said she had no comment on the court case at the moment.
A judge must now decide whether to proceed with the case. Levesque said it could take a year before his firm will be able to argue the case in court.
Levesque said it is not surprising that women are paid less than men or that they are discriminated against, but that it's time it's put the matter before the courts.
"There's nothing new about it," said Levesque. "What's new about it is we're doing something about it."