Quebec teachers vow to continue strike as premier says students are hurting

Quebec Premier François Legault tells reporters that teacher strikes are hurting kids.  (Syvlain Roy Roussel/CBC - image credit)
Quebec Premier François Legault tells reporters that teacher strikes are hurting kids. (Syvlain Roy Roussel/CBC - image credit)

Quebec teachers will continue striking for a third week starting Monday, said union president Mélanie Hubert at a news conference Friday evening after a marathon two-day meeting.

The Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), which represents teachers across Quebec, has been on an unlimited general strike since Nov. 23, keeping some 368,000 students out of school, according to Quebec's Education Ministry.

Hubert told reporters that the union is prepared to table a new counter-offer.

On Friday, Quebec Premier François Legault urged striking teachers to return to work, saying earlier in the day that the strike is hurting children.

"We need to stop this strike. It's going to hurt our students who already had the pandemic," Legault told reporters in Quebec City. "We need to stop this. Please, I'm asking all the teachers' unions to stop the strikes."

Hubert pushed back against the premier, saying "it's not five days out of class that's hurting kids, it's 25 years of crumbling infrastructure."

"So I think Mr. Legault can salute the cause," said Hubert.

The common front, a coalition of public sector unions that includes the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), which represents 95,000 other teachers and education workers, is also set to strike from Dec. 8 to 14, if they can't agree with the government on a new contract.

The teachers say they are overworked, underpaid and their classes are too large, among other issues.

Legault said Quebec doesn't have enough teachers to reduce class sizes.

"What we're proposing in exchange, is to add a second person in the class, a class aide, but we can't hurt our kids," he said. "They're the most precious thing we have."

Josée Scalabrini, the president of the other teachers' union, the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement, which is affiliated with the CSQ, described Legault's comments as "very damaging" and "disrespectful."

"We have a premier who is trying to make teachers feel guilty for demanding more services for their students," she said.

Scalabrini questioned why, if the premier believes the teachers' strike is causing problems for students, there haven't been negotiations in two weeks.

"If the strike is causing harm now, why doesn't the government come to the table?" she said.

Legault said the government is willing to put more money on the table in its dealings with teachers and nurses who are also striking.

In exchange, he said again Friday, the government wanted some flexibility in collective agreements, to, for example, offer workers in some under-served areas higher pay to make those positions more attractive — without having to offer an equivalent pay raise across the entire network.

He called it a "minimum amount of flexibility" that the government needs in order to improve services to Quebecers.