COVID-19: Quebec teachers in shock after government suspends collective agreements
MONTREAL -- Teachers across Quebec say they are worried after receiving notices stating their assignments, schedules and workplaces could be modified at any time because their collective agreements are no longer considered binding in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We understand that someone who receives an email and is told their collective agreement no longer applies is in a panic," Sonia Ethier, president of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), told The Canadian Press Wednesday. "They were told their entire collective agreements no longer apply when there are certain provisions in place, such as emergency measures."
The CSQ represents more than 200,000 members, of which 125,000 are educational staff.
Ethier says she spoke with Quebec’s deputy education minister, Éric Blackburn, to clarify the situation after being inundated with calls from worried teachers.
"It is really a ministerial decree to predict the worst, but unions were not notified and instructions have gone out on all sides without a full explanation. It fuels fear and people react badly," she said.
SUPPORT STAFF ALSO AFFECTED
Teachers aren’t the only ones worried; similar notices were also sent to support staff.
In an internal note from the Commission scolaire des Grandes-Seigneuries (CSDGS), obtained by The Canadian Press, "in order to allow the CSDGS to maintain its essential activities, work schedules could be modified. Depending on the needs, you may be called upon to perform different tasks outside of normal working hours and outside your workplace."
The decree was announced in Wednesday’s Gazette officielle du Québec, indicating that collective agreements can be modified to "allow the employer to assign staff to different tasks and working hours to allow them to meet the needs necessary."
Ethier says she is consulting the CSQ’s legal services to verify the situation, while also speaking with representatives of the FTQ and the CSN.
A WARNING TO THE GOVERNMENT
The president of the CSQ is inviting the Quebec government “to avoid adopting extreme measures without consultation, which could have the opposite effect to the objectives sought.”
"We do not understand the meaning of this ministerial decree, since we have always said that our staff was ready to collaborate," she said. "Everyone is in shock. We did not expect this. There has really been a serious breach on the part of the government."
Ethier argues there needs to be close collaboration between employers and unions in order to make sure instructions are clear and identical in all settings to avoid confusion.
All schools in Quebec are closed until at least March 30 in the hope of curbing the spread of COVID-19.
However, Premier François Legault recently hinted that closures could be extended to the fall, or even December, if necessary.
This report by the Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2020.