The Iceberg our Politicians Don’t Want to See

24 September 2018

In every election campaign, all political parties tend to express support for our public education system.  But usually when leaders and candidates talk about education, they talk about the shortage of teachers or the condition of buildings.

We rarely hear them talking about school support staff.  Unfortunately, this election campaign is no different.

The shortage we choose not see

In school boards throughout Quebec, however, there is a serious shortage of support staff, a situation that is only getting worse.  The scarcity is everywhere we look, but politicians and administrators seem oblivious to it… or maybe they just don’t want to see it.

But our schools, centers and school boards simply cannot function without school support staff.  Whether we are talking about infrastructure maintenance, attending to and supporting students, administration, daycare services, school transportation or countless other things, the contributions of school support staff are essential to the smooth operations of our public education system.

Operations that may soon become increasingly dysfunctional with insufficient numbers of school support staff.  Can we really allow this situation to deteriorate even further?

A risky and deliberate blindness

With the many occupations and responsibilities they assume, school support staff are ubiquitous and essential in our school system.  How can we remain silent and pretend nothing is happening when faced with a shortage of workers from 81 employment classes?

There is a limit to voluntary blindness.  A reality doesn’t just disappear because we find it unpleasant and refuse to look at it. It will eventually blow up in our faces.  If we don’t want this to happen with the shortage of support staff, politicians and leaders of political parties who aspire to be premier of Quebec must make clear commitments to end it.

The real causes of the shortage

The shortage didn’t just happen by accident.  There are real causes behind it, such as precarious and unacceptable working conditions imposed on staff.  Who would accept a job as a daycare educator for only thirteen hours a week, making it difficult to pay bills at the end of the month?  How can we attract and retain secretaries and workers when they are paid less than in the private sector or municipal and federal public services?

Is it normal that 56% of school support staff workers say their salaries are insufficient to meet their needs and obligations?1

Aside from insufficient pay, 48% of them have to work through breaks and lunch hours or extend their workday to handle steadily increasing responsibilities.1 Three quarters have seen their workloads increase.  And so exhaustion adds to the stress of precariousness.  Should we be surprised that more than 80% of these people say they are exhausted?  We wouldn’t expect any less.

An iceberg on the horizon

If the politicians and administrators of our school boards continue to turn a blind eye to the inhuman working conditions imposed on these workers, then the situation of school support staff may well become the huge iceberg against which our public school system is likely to collide.

The political party leaders need to tell us, by October 1, what they intend to do to prevent the sinking…

Éric Pronovost, President of the Fédération du personnel de soutien scolaire (FPSS-CSQ)

Conditions de travail et compressions budgétaires – Portrait de la situation dans les écoles du Québec – Institut national de la recherche scientifique (IRIS) – August 2018