Nunavik teachers, school support staff gear up for possible job action

Frustration grows over stalled contract talks with Quebec government


KSB teachers gathers for orientation in Kuujjuaq ahead of the 2015-16 school year. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KSB)

KSB teachers gathers for orientation in Kuujjuaq ahead of the 2015-16 school year. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KSB)

Nunavik’s teachers and support staff will join their counterparts throughout the rest of Quebec and vote to mount job action this winter because of stalled contract talks and the province’s proposed cuts to education.

Larry Imbeault, president of the Association of Employees of Northern Quebec, which represents Kativik School Board teachers and support staff, says its members are gearing up for a series of potential strike days this winter.

The union will roll out a campaign in Nunavik schools over the coming weeks, Imbeault said, and consult with members at the same time to gauge support for holding a three-day strike in December, and another three-day strike in early 2016.

The union’s grievances hinge on stagnant contract negotiations, which haven’t moved forward since the union submitted its demands to the province in October 2014.

Among those demands, Nunavik teachers and support staff want to see a 4.5 per cent salary increase a year over a three-year period.

Quebec, however, is proposing a two-year wage freeze, followed by a one per cent hike over the next three years, which Imbeault calls “ridiculous.”

“There’s a big gap between the two parties,” he said. “And that’s following the last round [of negotiations] in 2010 where the settlement was also a low salary increase.”

The province has also asked for higher teacher-student ratios, changes to parental leave and cuts to employee pensions plans.

In the meantime, teachers and support staff have been without a contract since March 31.

The delay is at least in part due to a disagreement between the province and the school board over the KSB’s power to negotiate certain parts of the contract.

The KSB wants to be able to negotiate salaries and benefits for teachers, support staff and professionals itself — stipulated as the school board’s right in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, although those negotiations have always been managed by the provincial education department.

The school board believes that it would be able to offer more attractive packages to staff that way, which would help with staff retention in the long-term, the KSB said in a statement provided to Nunatsiaq News.

“We agree [with the school board] on this, but the disagreement is between them,” Imbeault said.

The Association of Employees of Northern Quebec now intends to file a complaint with Quebec’s Labour Relations Commission under the premise that the province has negotiated in bad faith, Imbeault said.

Lagging contract talks are only aggravated by other cost-cutting measures, as announced by Quebec earlier this year, when it revealed its education budget would only see an increase of 0.2 per cent.

At the same time, the KSB recently implemented salary increases for its management staff this year, a move the KSB says was made to bring those positions up to par with management positions at other Nunavik and northern organizations.

The increases were in response to an external study conducted last year, the KSB said, which found salaries paid to management positions at the KSB were lower than their counterparts at other organizations.

But Imbeault said union members are not happy with the move.

“On one side you have the school board offering a salary increase [to managerial staff], while there’s so little for teachers and support staff,” he said.

Should union members vote in favour of strike action, that would likely happen three days in early December, and another three days after the Christmas holidays, the union said.

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