Quebec looks to fill more than 1,000 positions in public daycares as pandemic takes its toll

Hundreds of workers have left the sector in the last few months alone. During the pandemic, staff have been leaving in droves, to retire, return to school or switch careers.

Province trying to recruit much-needed personnel in educator, cooking and cleaning roles

During the pandemic, Quebec daycare workers have had to adapt to enforce health restrictions, disinfect workspaces and toys, and keep children in designated groups. (Mélissa Savoie-Soulières/Radio-Canada)

Quebec is launching a campaign today to try and recruit some 1,300 people to work in public daycare centres.

Across the province there are 1,118 educator positions open, along with 40 cooks and 28 cleaning staff jobs, according to Radio-Canada.

During the pandemic, staff have been leaving in droves to retire, return to school or switch careers.

Geneviève Bélisle, director of the Association of Quebec CPEs, told CBC News the province has been dealing with a shortage of early childhood educators for years, but the pandemic has only made it worse.

She said hundreds of workers have left the sector in the last few months alone. In Val-d'Or, a daycare had to close at the end of October because it didn't have the staff to operate.

"This has never happened before," said Bélisle. "It's putting pressure on the whole network."

She said many workers are feeling the added pressure of enforcing pandemic restrictions and dealing with additional tasks like constant disinfecting.

If the province is serious about recruitment, Bélisle said, it will have to start paying educators more and offering better working conditions.

The province is trying to recruit more than 1,000 employees to the daycare sector in order to quickly fill gaps that threaten to disrupt service. (Radio-Canada)

Currently, the salary for a daycare educator with 10 years experience is between $18 and a max of $25 an hour.

Their collective agreement expired on March 31 and the union has been pushing for a pay increase during negotiations.

'I've never seen this in my life'

On the ground, people working in the system are feeling the strain of the lack of personnel.

Fazyl Boucenna, director of Royaume de Rachel daycare in the Plateau, told Radio-Canada that he has been subbing in as an educator in order to keep the place running.

"I've lost nine educators since the beginning of the pandemic," he said. "For the last two weeks I've had to be an educator as well as managing the administrative tasks."

"I've never seen this in my life. We are in a difficult situation, the ministry underestimates it. There is no labour," he said.

Families Minister Mathieu Lacombe declined to comment on this story as negotiations are still underway with the union.

With files from Franca Mignacca, Radio-Canada's Romain Schué and Véronique Prince