• Withdraw Bill
100! No to Rule by Decree! Support the Public Sector Workers' Just
Quebec Common Front Negotiations
Withdraw Bill 100! No to Rule by Decree!
Montreal teachers demonstrate on March 31, 2010 to mark the end of the Charest government's anti-labour decree of 2005. (FAE)
We consider this bill a blatant and totally unacceptable negation of our right to negotiate our working conditions. We are being told by this government that it does not matter what we negotiate, it is going to be declared null and void by its legislation. Right in the midst of our negotiation, the government is adopting a law to eliminate thousands of public service positions and make it illegal for us to fight for the improvement of the working and living conditions of thousands of women. The government is carrying on with the decree of 2005 without calling it a decree. It is a disguised decree with the aim of further dismantling the public services. It is totally unacceptable.
TML: What are your demands regarding this bill?
JM: The measures I have just described have to be withdrawn. There are no two ways about it. We are going to step up our actions, which have already begun, against this bill to force the government to withdraw these measures. Amongst other things, we are working with women's groups in Quebec to mobilize against this bill. The government has to recognize our right to negotiate our working conditions and to improve them.
TML: The teachers of the Federation autonome de l'enseignement (Autonomous Federation of Education -- FAE) have put forward demands in the context of the negotiations of the public sector workers. Can you summarize them?
Jean-Paul Bedard: We have put forward 16 demands. It has been over a year now since we put them forward and they have barely been heard at the bargaining table. That is one of the main problems we are facing at this time. Teachers have presented concrete demands while the government has presented its own offer as a series of general statements. We have put forward concrete demands on the workload and the problems we face with students who have special needs and we are demanding corresponding services. These demands arise from the problems caused by the 2005 decree and which are currently stuck in this round of negotiations due to the intransigence of the government.
With complete disregard for the students, the government is refusing to guarantee the services that the children need which have been objectively identified. It is telling us that it does not have any responsibility, that the onus is solely ours. It is telling us that it has a budget of $90 million for these services, and that is all the services we are going to get. It is telling the teachers to share this amount between them for the life of the contract which is three years and that with this money we are to buy the services that we think we need. Our main demand is that the government must guarantee all the services that are needed and the budget of $90 million is way below what is required.
In this case of the students with special needs, what we need the most are resource-teachers. These are teachers who assist the teachers and the students.
Currently, teachers dedicate themselves to dealing with the needs of the students. There are 32 students per classroom which is too much and 12 of them may have special needs that we cannot provide for. So, according to the number of students with special needs who have been identified, we are granted a certain number of resource-teachers. These teachers spend half of their time teaching and half of their time helping us. That is not enough to deal with the situation and the problem is getting worse and worse because there are more students who are having problems with learning or being able to function in a school environment.
Students with special needs are an issue for everybody. It is a problem for the whole society. These are problems facing life today and we have to deal with them. The teachers do that every day and they need the necessary resources to do so. This requires that the government increase funding in public education and provide all-sided assistance. It is in the public schools where we find the children of the families that have been the most affected by the anti-social offensive. There are very few students with special needs in the private schools because generally they fail the admission tests. Private schools do not need technicians in specialized education or psychologists.
TML: The Charest government offered up a "blitz" of negotiations at the end of March and according to the government this was a proof that it badly wanted to negotiate with the teachers. What is your view about that?
JPB: In this round of negotiations as with the decree of 2005 we have hit a brick wall. The government is answering our concrete demands with so-called statements of principle and it refuses to move. We are never able to get clear answers on anything at the table.
So the government offered us a "blitz." What did it mean by that? We have 16 demands. The government, in order for this blitz to happen, demanded that we prioritize 3 demands. The FAE was right in saying that this is not acceptable, that our 16 demands have not even been heard and discussed at the table. We said that first we must discuss our demands as a whole.
Which demands are we supposed to drop? We hear that maybe we could drop the demand on professional autonomy. For the teachers, professional autonomy is a very important demand. The government does not recognize the established process of professional qualification. It does not recognize when a teacher has become permanent and that his/her competence has been recognized by a university degree, followed by 2 years of probation at school, and with 3 positive assessments by school principals. It is through this process that teachers become permanent and recognized as qualified professionals.
However, according to the Ministry, at any time teachers can be asked to change various methods of teaching, and it is made mandatory that they have to go through this change and of course at the end their competence is assessed once again. This does not show any respect for our professional autonomy. We are saying that it is up to the teachers to decide how they teach. For us it is an issue of principle. Otherwise, if we were to drop this issue of professional autonomy, it would be very easy for the government to put a teacher under supervision as if he/she were a new teacher and to decide if the teacher has the competence to teach according to some new requirements set by the ministry. This means that any teacher that the government and the school boards want to fire is forced to go through a process that can lead to dismissal. This is a way to get rid of the older teachers who have been part of all the battles and who are also paid higher wages than the new teachers because of their years of experience.
TML: Teachers often say that the government is ruling as if the decree of 2005 is still in force although it ended on March 31. Can you elaborate?
JPB: The Charest government just tabled Bill 100 which calls for massive cutbacks in what it calls administrative services in health care and education. There is also the issue of Bill 88, passed in October 2008, which amended the Quebec Education Act and is causing serious problems. It was passed just a year before this round of bargaining started. It says amongst other things that if a school makes a "surplus," which means that it has not spent all the money allocated to the school, the so-called surplus has to be returned to the school board. If the school wants to get this surplus back, it must sign an agreement with the school board which sets targets for the use of this surplus. A school, for example, may sign an agreement according to which the rate of success for, let's say, "level five" in high school will be increased. The teachers then find themselves in a situation where their work load may be increased through an agreement between the school administration and the school board. It is a way to eliminate negotiations and set their working conditions by decree.
The offer of the government to the teachers in this round of bargaining uses the same words that we find in the legislation. This means that even before the negotiations began, everything was already decided and put into the law in order to set our working conditions by decree.
In this way, the decree of 2005 is being carried on but the word decree is not being used. The Charest government never had the intention of negotiating with us. They do not discuss. They decree. That is why they come to the table with so-called statements of principle and refuse to discuss our concrete proposals. The unions are facing a brick wall and are trying to unblock the situation.
Letter to the Editor
I want to emphasize the excellent work done by TML in providing guidance during this period of all-out attack against the consciousness of the workers and people. The quantity of lies by the forces of the status quo is increasing and this creates insecurity in all aspects of life, be it on an economic or social level, not to mention the danger of global conflict hanging over the heads of the peoples of the world.
I was struck by the TML article "How Do Workers Guarantee Their Security in Retirement and Other Rights?" especially with the statement "No piece of paper, legislation, law, savings or pension plan, collective agreement or sworn word of those in authority guarantees anything without an organized and socially conscious working class demanding and fighting for its rights." As a worker in the education field, it gives perspective to the work to be developed in order to win our negotiations and to modernize the education system in Quebec. The Jean Charest government created euphoria over the tentative agreement recently accepted by one of the teachers' unions. But the teachers are wary because their experience does not show that the Liberals want to steer the economy towards meeting the needs of the population, including a public education system organized according to the highest standards of a modern society. For example, while teachers are demanding a reduction in the number of students per class for all high school years, the government's tentative agreement only reduces class sizes for grades 7 and 8 from four and three students respectively. To add insult to injury, the day after accepting the tentative agreement the president of the teachers' negotiations management committee said that the new agreement will allow schools to circumvent the new student ratios "if they do not have the staff to respond." So who will guarantee the realization of the teachers' demands if not themselves, through their struggle to be the decision makers on the issues in this sector of society?
March 16, 2010: Membership meeting of teachers of the FAE ratifies the June 8 one day strike. (FAE)
The public sector workers, the teachers in particular, must be vigilant and rely on their long and rich experience of opposing Charest's manoeuvres to divert the struggle from the affirmation of the rights of everyone to access high quality public services. Thus, the Charest government instead promotes accommodations that do not serve the right to education but seek to divide the workers' struggle and weaken the movement against the anti-social offensive.
Otherwise, why would the Minister of Education, Michèle Courchesne, say: "I hope the fact that we have signed this tentative agreement with the largest teachers' union inspires others to continue with the negotiations, so we could experience the same outcome." And this at a time when the FAE, another teachers' union, was summoned Friday, June 4 to a hearing at the Essential Services Council in an attempt to declare their June 8 strike day illegal.
"Working class organizations have to create the conditions for collective work and individual responsibility to flourish, and individual workers have to take up their social responsibility to participate consciously in the collective work to defend their rights and interests and ensure the vitality of their working class organizations," TML points out. This is an excellent guide! Let's evaluate the government's proposals on the basis of our own agenda as educators of the young generation, and as a group that defends the right to an education system that meets the needs of all!
A teacher in Montreal
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