Next week will be marked by the start of strikes in the public sector. Indefinite general strikes will begin in the education sector and could last for a long time. The parties are far from reaching an agreement and there is little movement on either side in the negotiation.
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We are already talking about potentially historic strikes. Quebec has not experienced this type of school closure due to a labor dispute since 1983; the conflict lasted three weeks and the Parti Québécois government put an end to it with a special law.
Law 111 made it mandatory to return to work and applied severe penalties to those who violated it. A so-called law that cost the PQ dearly in the vote of state employees.
The education sector has always enjoyed full right to strike. Quebec laws on essential services have traditionally been limited to public health and safety. Also, this is what our Labor Code states: essential services restrict the right to strike when there is a threat to health or safety.
However, I would venture to say that things have evolved since 1983. Over the last 40 years, the role of school in society and the relationship between children and school have evolved a lot.
Therefore, would it not be reasonable to submit the question to the Labor Administrative Court today? Is there an essential character at school today? This organization, which now manages the essential services issue, could assess the case.
Can we just shut down Quebec schools to go on strike? Close schools and daycare centers? With the participation of women in the labor market, the school plays a key role in the organization of life. With schools and daycares closed, the ability of parents to go to work, especially health and public safety workers, is at risk.
I am not talking about removing any right to strike. This right exists in Quebec under well-regulated circumstances and allows the interruption of public services. Teachers have legitimate demands and are entitled to pressure tactics to enforce them.
But I’m still sending you questions that I think are relevant in the context of 2023.
Is school an essential service for children with great difficulties whose school year is compromised?
Is school an essential service for severely delayed students still suffering from pandemic disruptions?
And for children from very disadvantaged families for whom school is a lifeline?
Has it become an essential service to maintain minimal childcare for essential workers or people who are really struggling?
These questions deserve to be re-examined in the run-up to 2023.