They are an essential part of Quebec’s education system, but more than half of school support staff say they’re not getting paid enough to meet their basic needs.
That’s just one finding in a new survey released by a union representing support workers that paints a bleak picture of their reality.
“We’re the foundation of the entire school system. Everything is built upon support staff,” said Andrea Di Tomaso, English school representative at the FEESP-CSN support workers’ union.
Support staff includes janitors, secretaries, lab technicians, daycare workers and more. However, they say they can barely afford to pay their bills.
“52 per cent say their school support jobs don’t allow them to meet their basic needs, such as covering rent, electricity, food, really basic stuff,” said Di Tomaso. “For the anglophone side, that increases to 78 per cent.”
FEESP-CSN, which represents 35,000 support workers across Quebec, unveiled the alarming findings of a survey of about 7,000 of their members.
78 per cent say they live paycheque to paycheque. 50 per cent say they’re unable to save for things like retirement or their children’s education. 12 per cent have used food banks in the past year.
“It shows us to what point the salaries of support staff are really too low, said FEESP-CSN president Annie Charland, “We are seeing terrible working conditions.”
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The union unveiled the average salaries of a number of jobs it calls “precarious.”
“A high school lab technician, the average is $40,400 a year. A day-care educator is $17,503 year. A caretaker is $36,282 a year. A kitchen helper is $11,891 a year. A special education technician, which is trained in CEGEP to take care of children with special needs, makes $31,626 year and the recess ladies only makes $7,306 a year.”
The union says many members need to find second or third jobs to make ends meet. Others are leaving the public system altogether.
“It’s not surprising that people are looking to work elsewhere. you know, we we’re having a very difficult time attracting people,” said di Tomaso.
Last week, tens of thousands of public sector union members took to the streets as they continue contract negotiations with the Legault government.
“People are telling the government they’ve had enough,” said FEESP-CSN vice president Frederic Brun. “We need to be recognized for the work we do.”
Di Tomaso pointed to the most recent five-year offer from the treasury board.
“The inflation forecast of the finance minister is 16.4% from the period of two 2022 to 2027. They’re only offering us 9%,” she said.
They pointed to Quebec announcing this week it will invest over a billion dollars in an electric battery plant, and elected officials recently voting to give themselves a $30,000 per year raise.
“We really don’t think they care very much about public education,” said Di Tomaso.
Support for a strike is sky-high among school support workers. The English Montreal School Board support workers union voted more than 98 per cent in favour.
“This government right now is putting us in a position where they’re almost forcing us to strike,” said Di Tomaso.
Public sector unions will continue to hold strike votes until October 13th. This week Treasury Board Secretary Sonia LeBel asked them to reduce their demands.