A simple solution to the shortage of support staff in schools: create full-time positions!lution to the shortage of support staff in schools: create full-time positions!

23 October 2020

In the wake of their “Answer the call!” campaign, the  Fédération du personnel de soutien scolaire (FPSS-CSQ) is urging the Quebec Government to respond to the shortage of student supervisors, daycare educators and janitors that continues to plague our schools by offering full-time jobs to the thousands of employees already working in the school system, people who are already trained but are only working a few hours a week.

With the support of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE-CSQ) and the Fédération des professionnelles et professionnels de l’éducation du Québec (FPPE-CSQ), the FPSS-CSQ is asking the Minister of Education to implement a simple solution that would significantly help school teams in their daily mission: the creation of full-time support staff positions.  The FPSS-CSQ  consulted its 19 affiliated unions in 24 school service centres across Quebec and found evidence that in each school, without exception, issues related to the labour shortage and overwork of support staff are having drastic repercussions in the field.

At this point, it seems that the “Answer the call!” recruitment campaign has had no effects on the ground.  This is why the unions are openly questioning the Minister of Education’s refusal to create more full-time support staff positions to lend a helping hand to current staff.  This structural solution would make it possible to both address the shortage of human resources and reduce the rate of precariousness of workers on the ground, which currently stands at 70%. The creation of student supervisor, daycare educator and janitor positions appears to be an urgent priority measure in our schools, a priority for teaching and professional staff as well as support staff.

Multiple challenges in every school

“In every school, there are several issues: a shortage of janitors to handle disinfection.  A lack of technicians to ensure the functioning of distance learning courses.  A lack of technicians and educators in daycares, attendants for disabled students, student supervisors, social work technicians and special education technicians.  The list is endless,” says FPSS-CSQ President Éric Pronovost.

“We cannot understand Minister Roberge’s willful blindness.  It is time for him to open his eyes because our members are getting more and more irritated with his haughty attitude.  He is like the captain of a ship who is refusing to admit that his boat is taking in water everywhere and sinking.  Stop looking down on support staff.  We are essential in education, just like our teacher and professional colleagues,” adds Mr. Pronovost.

The shortage of support staff is having an impact on the entire school system 

Quebec’s education system is like a set of gears where each one must function well for the whole thing to work.  Teachers and professionals are also being affected by the shortage of academic support staff.

“The pandemic has highlighted the results of underinvestment in education, something that has been going on for years.  Accounting and budgetary factors have turned the current health crisis into a veritable crisis in working conditions.  Without improved working conditions and the creation of full-time school support staff positions, the underlying problems will persist.  The government can allocate all the resources it wants, if the structural problems of precarious jobs are not addressed,  the schools will remain in a state of crisis! ” explains Sonia Ethier, President of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ).

“While the pandemic has raised awareness of many of the difficulties staff in the system are experiencing, it has also resulted in a significant increase in the already too heavy workload of teachers.  We are running out of time and resources to handle all the extra demands related to the crisis, many of which involve monitoring and disinfection.  But the more time we have to devote to these energy-intensive and necessary tasks, the less time remains for remedial work and student supervision.  We really need more resources to allow us to focus on teaching, learning and student success,” says Josée Scalabrini, President of the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE‑CSQ).

“Since the start of the school year, we have been shocked by this critical shortage of support staff.  These workers provide significant expertise, helping school teams accomplish everything they need to do.  Without their help it is difficult to imagine our schools functioning, yet few of them have stable jobs.  It is absolutely essential that all these employees with whom we work on a daily basis and who have the well-being of our students at heart be fairly recognized for what they are worth. We must reduce precariousness and put a stop to support staff turnover if we want to be able to move forward, especially the context of a pandemic,” denounces Jacques Landry, President of the Fédération des professionnelles et professionnels de l’éducation du Québec (FPPE-CSQ)

Testimonials

In the interests of transparency, and to force the minister to open his eyes, the FPSS-CSQ surveyed its members across Quebec.  The testimonies of each of these people clearly demonstrates that the problems are not “exceptions to the rule”.

“What’s going on in daycares right now goes beyond anything you will see in the media.  The situation on the ground is so difficult that it is not uncommon for colleagues to arrive at work in the morning crying, already exhausted and anxious about the day ahead.  The government is asking us to meet specific needs in a pandemic situation, but without increasing the workforce.  We try to help each other, we replace special education technicians and janitors, for example, but it’s the children who suffer.  We no longer have time to meet all their needs, despite our increasing psychological distress, and it’s tearing us all apart.  It’s all well and good to spend our time forming and re-forming bubbles, but who will attend to the psychological health of the children in all of this?” Sylvie Levert, Daycare educator at Ecole Sans-Frontières, Rivière-du-Nord.

“I’m a daycare technician, so I have to make sure everything functions properly.  But these days I spend a lot of time trying to find replacements to fill the daily absences.  We just can’t find replacement personnel, and our recall lists are exhausted.  Daycare technicians from different schools try to help each other, and we work with human resources, but it’s the same scenario everywhere.  The labour shortage is hitting us hard, and poor working conditions do nothing to attract new employees.  I’m afraid of what is to come, because staff are already burnt out, just two months into the school year.  What will it be like in January?  Or in the spring?  And what about the effects this turnover is having on the children?  They don’t have any consistency in daycare.  This makes it difficult for them to form attachment bonds with meaningful adults.  What will be the long-term impacts?  I repeat, I am worried.” Isabeau Julien, daycare technician at Ecole des Ormeaux, Laval.

“Things are not going very well right now.  Things were better in the spring because there were fewer people in the schools.  We had time to disinfect everything as required by Public Health.  Now, it’s impossible to do this without working overtime. So we just do what we can in the time we have.  And we are exhausted.  I’m 40 and consider myself to be in great shape, but at this rate I am never going to retire.  It’s extremely demanding physically, we’re running everywhere.  I have several colleagues on the verge of burn-out.  And we get no recognition.  Remember, school support staff were at the front last spring, but there were no bonuses for us.” Rémi Lapierre, janitor at Ecole Jacques-Cartier, Sept-Îles.

“The problem is with the Ministry of Education and the minister himself.  There have been many last-minute flip-flops since last March.  You would think things would be better in October, but they aren’t.  We learned only from the media, for example, that there would be not three, but two report cards this year.  I had just spent an entire week preparing the first report card!   So I wasted 35 hours of work for nothing.  Imagine the costs of all these flip-flops province wide.  The same tasks need to be performed over and over again due to last-minute changes.  Not to mention that it is not normal for people to learn about new directives on television.  It’s not normal that people on the ground are not consulted or informed.  Minister Roberge boasts of having been part of the school system, and therefore he understands the realities of what’s happening on the ground.  But here on the ground, we find him completely disconnected.”   Annie Bissonnette, school secretary, Ecole Fleur-de-Vie, Laval.

“If I had to describe the current situation in one word, I would choose the word ‘hell’.  I’ve been a daycare technician for eight years, but I’ve never seen anything like this.  Working conditions and recruitment of new workers have been declining for years.  But we are getting close to the bottom with this pandemic.  I feel like I am spending these days playing Tetris with the various support staff job classes in order to respect the bubbles and fill gaps related to COVID.  The climate at work is very tense, and this has become the norm in these conditions!  Imagine… we chose to work in school daycares to work with children.  But these days we have no fun with them anymore because all we do is make sure they follow the Public Health regulations.  Not to mention the lack of premises, growing constraints and endless compromises.  Combined with the small number of guaranteed working hours per week, it’s no wonder that many workers are considering changing jobs.” Julie Côté (fictitious name), daycare technician, Island of Montreal 

“Right now, we’re just putting out fires, managing emergencies.  We don’t have time to do anything else because there are just too many.  Coupled with trying to replace employees absent due to COVID, the situation is unlivable.  Sometimes we are even required to work overtime or cancel already scheduled vacations because there are no replacements.  We’re at the end of the line.  Along with our colleagues, we have told management that we are exhausted.  Managers completely understand but just don’t have the staff.  There is not much they can do.  And they know very well that they are burning both ends of the candle, but the solutions proposed by the minister are completely utopian.  It’s about time he returned to take a walk on the ground and see what’s really going on here.” Marie-Sophie Paré, special education technician, Ecole Jo-Paquin, Premières-Seigneuries