The two unions representing teachers and support staff in the northern Quebec region of Nunavik initiated the first of five possible strike days in Montreal on Wednesday.
The reason: they say there haven’t been any quality-of-life improvements for their members in 20 years.
“We need to send a strong message -that we won’t take ‘no’ anymore,” explained Larry Imbeault, president of the Association of Employees of Northern Quebec.
“They have to say yes to some of our demands.”
Imbeault says that four rounds of negotiations with the Kativik School Board have been fruitless so far – and that Kativik’s reluctance to budge demonstrates a “lack of consideration” for its employees.
More than 700 teachers and support staff workers have tabled a handful of demands, according to Imbeault.
Regional teachers from the northern communities want more outings, rent subsidies, and premiums to match those offered to fly-in employees.
Imbeault says Kativik’s teaching jobs generally need to be more attractive to outside applicants, as a high turnover rate is impacting quality of education offered to Inuit students.
Together, the unions posited solutions to attract and retain professionals, reimburse professional membership dues, limit “precarious status” positions and increase bereavement leave flexibility “to better adapt to northern realities.”
But so far, Imbeault says Kativik – and Quebec’s Legault government – have been inflexible and unresponsive at the bargaining table.
“If we compare the education system in the North with what it is in the south – you cannot compare them,” he added.
The union representing school board professionals in the west of Montreal, known by the acronym “SPPOM,” were also present at Wednesday’s gathering.
“Students in Nunavik – the Inuit – have the right to access professional, quality services like all the other students in Quebec,” stated SPPOM’s President, Carolane Desmarais.
Desmarais explained the psychosocial needs of students in the North are vastly different than the needs of students in the south.
Despite this, Desmarais says Kativik only has one psychologist on retainer – and they’re expected to address the needs of students in all of Nunavik’s 14 communities.
“Don’t ask yourselves why we can’t maintain [union] membership in Nunavik’s communities – we’re burning them out. We’re emptying them of their resources,” Desmarais added as a crowd of onlookers cheered in the background.
“It needs to change now.”
The two teachers’ unions say Wednesday’s demonstration was more than just a pressure tactic – it was a “heartfelt cry” for help.
They’re pleading with the provincial government and the Kativik School Board to be flexible with negotiations and work consciously to even out the educational playing field in Quebec.
If the demands are not met with haste, both Desmarais and Imbeault say Kativik’s teachers and support staff are prepared to continue striking for the next five days.
APTN News reached out to the Kativik School Board for their input on the strike action.
In an email, a school board spokesperson said they wouldn’t comment while union negotiations are ongoing.