Montreal's largest teachers' group breaks off talks with province

The FAE - the union federation representing 34,000 French-language teachers in and around Montreal - is suspending negotiations, blaming the Quebec government's "ideological and inflexible" position.

FAE says Quebec government's 'ideological, inflexible' position will 'sacrifice a generation of students'

A teacher is seen picketing outside the Lajoie elementary school in Outremont on Monday Oct. 26 as part of a series of one-day rotating strikes. (Tanya Birkbeck/CBC)

The Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE) is suspending negotiations with the province, saying the Quebec government's "obsession with austerity" amounts to "sacrificing an entire generation of students."

The federation will now consult with its eight member unions on what step to take next. Their options include taking the third and final day of the strike mandate which the federation previously voted on.. 

"We hope to send a clear and strong message. We will not accept a deterioration of our working conditions," said FAE President Sylvain Mallette at a news conference. 

He added that the union is open to considering any new offers.

"The government must understand that a new contract should allow students to have the services and resources they need,' said Mallette.

"[Education Minister François] Blais said that he thought it would be awkward to spend more for education, but we think it is awkward to think of education as an expense rather than an investment," he said.

Education Minister Blais was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon but his spokeswoman issued a brief statement. 

"We wish to remind the FAE that the issues will be addressed at the bargaining table," said Julie White in the statement.

"We want to continue working with them, as well as all other unions to reach an agreement as fast as possible. However the agreement must take into account what taxpayers are able to pay." 

Talks stalled

The FAE – which represents 34,000 French-language teachers in Montreal, Laval, the lower Laurentians, the Outaouais and parts of the Montérégie – said after nearly 11 months of negotiations and 64 bargaining sessions, the government's negotiating team has not yet broached the topic of how to improve learning conditions for students or fix the most pressing needs of the public school system.

"Faced with that attitude, the FAE has no choice but to suspend its work at the negotiating table and ask the government to go down some other road to reach a satisfactory settlement," said Mallette.

The teachers' contract expired last April. The unions rejected a management offer in late September, and in October, they joined other public sector unions in a series of rotating strikes.

What do the teachers want?

Unions have denounced the government's proposal to increase the number of students in the latter years of elementary school and in Secondary 1 and 2.

Quebec also wants to increase the teachers's working week from 32 to 35 hours (and even 40 hours depending on the employer's final proposal) without any wage increases.

Current working conditions

Currently, teachers are required to work 32 hours every week. In elementary school, it involves 23 hours of instruction, four hours of additional activities and five hours for preparation, marking and meetings with parents. In high school, it's 20 hours of instruction and seven of complementary activities.

On wages, teachers are demanding increases of 13.5 per cent over three years: 7.5 per cent on the first year and 3 per cent per year for following years.

The government proposed a wage freeze until 2016 and an increase of 1 per cent per year until 2019.

The government also wants to make changes to the pension plan or delay the retirement age and add penalties for early retirement.