By Jack Wilson
Members of the Syndicat des professionnelles et professionnels de l’éducation de l’Estrie (SPPEE) gathered in front of Mitchell-Montcalm secondary school May 31 demanding the province improve work conditions and fill empty positions in schools. The demonstration comes as public sector unions across Quebec negotiate with the province under the Common Front alliance of unions.
The SPPEE is represented by the Centre des syndicats du Québec in Common Front negotiations. The union represents close to 400 members, including psychologists, speech therapists, social workers and other professionals working in the region’s three francophone school service centres and in the English-language Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB). Separate unions also falling under the Common Front umbrella represent the region’s teachers.
The most recent Ministry of Education update reported 180 vacant psychologist positions, 164 missing speech therapists and 190 missing psychoeducators provincewide. It also showed over 900 vacant teaching posts. “We have more and more difficulty filling posts,” SPPEE president Martin Côté said. If the province wants to reverse the trend, “it needs to offer the conditions necessary for attraction and retention,” he said.
Many professionals are leaving schools because they can find better jobs in the private sector, or even elsewhere in the public sector, Côté said. The union is seeking higher pay, especially for its many members with master’s degrees and doctorates. Other sectors factor higher education background into pay rates, he said, accusing the province of trying “to tie us down without offering the conditions to attract us.”