MONTREAL — As Quebec struggles to recruit enough teachers to fill its classrooms ahead of the new school year, a major union is warning that it's proving equally hard to find enough support staff.
The Fédération des employées et employés de services publics said Sunday there is a worrying number of vacancies for positions such as secretaries, special education technicians and educators who provide childcare outside of school hours.
The latter shortage is the most acute, with about 230 vacant positions at the Montreal service centre, 405 at the Mille-Îles service centre in the Laurentians and 136 at Chemin-du-Roy service centre in the Mauricie region.
The union said this means some workers will be left supervising 30 or 40 children at a time, and some schools may have to limit or roll back their services.
"What we'll see is, the ratio won't be (one worker for 20 students)," said Annie Charland, president of the union's school sector.
"They're really going to be overloaded."
Union vice-president Frédéric Brun said the problem is exacerbated by the ongoing teacher shortage, as many special education technicians have been asked to fill in at the head of the classroom.
"We're not just talking about staff shortages, but we're also talking about a shortage of services for students who have special needs, who have difficulties," he said.
Last week, Quebec's education minister said that at last count there were at least 8,558 vacant teaching positions, including 1,859 full-time and 6,699 part-time.
Despite a recruitment drive, Education Minister Bernard Drainville said Quebec would continue to rely on what he called "not legally qualified" individuals — who don't have teaching certificates or degrees — to fill classrooms.
On Sunday, the union said it was also worried about the number of support staff that have quit their jobs in recent years, including 400 at the Montreal service centre and more than 175 at Mille-Îles.
Charland said the difficult working conditions are driving even experienced staff away.
"I'm talking about people with 20 to 25 years' seniority who say to me, 'You know, Annie, I can't do this any more,'" she said.
Brun, for his part, said support staff are some of the lowest-paid public sector workers whose tasks are often poorly-defined. Both leaders called for better pay and working conditions in order to recruit and retain more staff.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2023.
Coralie Laplante, The Canadian Press