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Public school teachers protest austerity measures, proposed changes to contract agreements

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On Feb. 9, the Montreal trade union of kindergarten to high school teachers, the Alliance des Professeures et Professeurs de Montreal (APPM), staged a protest outside Roddick Gates. The APPM represents teachers’ interests before the Commission Scolaire de Montreal (CSM), the Montreal public school board.

According to APPM members, the union is facing the end of its current contract with the Quebec government on March 31, and is in ongoing negotiations with the government over a new contract. As a part of the austerity measures currently being implemented across Quebec to cut back on public spending, the Ministry of Education has proposed numerous changes to its contract with the APPM, which would affect public elementary and high school institutions.

Anger over the Ministry’s proposed deal sparked the protest, according to Carolyne Hebert, a teacher at École primaire des Amis-du-Monde, an elementary school in Côte-St-Luc. Among the potential changes are an increase in the number of students per class for grade three and up, a two-year freeze on salaries, changes to maternity leave and retirement age requirements, and cuts to special education programs.

“The rate [of students] per class usually is about 25 students, [and] they want to raise that,” Hebert said. “We have many students that […have] learning difficulties or […] behaviour problems, so it would be even worse if we had more students in our [classes].” 

Christine Fahndrich, a teacher in Montreal for 26 years, voiced concerns that the proposed changes will ultimately harm students. According to Fahndrich, the proposed contract may also affect the chances for younger teachers new to the field to secure permanent employment.

“They want to change the [hiring] conditions […] for younger persons getting [teaching] jobs, so that it’s hard for them to get a permanent job,” Fahndrich said. “[It’s] the kids that are going to pay. The conditions are going to be harder, more kids, more handicapped kids […] with less service, less teachers […and] less professionals to help those kids.”  

James Wilson, a supervisor of student teachers with the Faculty of Education at McGill, explained that there are two types of contracts a teacher in Montreal can be offered: Tenured positions and part-time contracts. Under a part-time contract, a teacher may be working full-time, but their contract will stipulate an end date for the job.

Usually [the teacher with the part-time contract] will be going in and replacing somebody for a year,” Wilson said. “When that year ends and that person comes back […] that job disappears.” 

A teacher who receives two of these part-time contracts is put on a short list for hiring in the event that another part-time or tenured position opens up. This system leaves many teachers constantly looking for a job and long application lists for tenured positions.

The effects of the government’s proposed contract, if it is accepted as the new agreement, could have grave consequences for those looking for employment in education. According to Wilson, a large component of the offer would feature increasing class sizes to decrease the number of teachers needed per school.

“If you’re saying to teachers, ‘Look, you’ve got to stay in the job longer,’ it means it reduces the number of posts which would become available to young people looking for a job,” Wilson said. “If you increase the workload, [that] means that you need less teachers anyway. So this is not good news for people [who] are thinking of getting into the job.”

Wilson explained that the Quebec government has the final say in the contract negotiations. 

“[The school boards are] just a mouthpiece that the government speaks through—in the end it’s the government that calls the shots.” Wilson said. 

Though the negotiations are likely to last for a while longer, according to Wilson, if an agreement is not reached by March 3, the current agreement will be automatically extended to cover the gap until a new contract is decided on.

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