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Teachers walk the picket line in Pontiac

SOPHIE KUIJPER DICKSON
SHAWVILLE Nov. 6 2023
Teachers across the Pontiac took to the picket lines on Monday morning to strike for better working conditions and higher wages.
The strike action lasted from midnight until 10:30 a.m. the morning of Nov. 6.
Teachers from Dr. S. E. McDowell Elementary School and the Pontiac Continuing Education Centre were just a handful of those who walked off the job in the region.
They spent the morning walking up and down Shawville’s Centre Street between the elementary school and Highway 148.
The strike caused local disruptions in schools with the Hauts-Bois-de-l’Outaouais School Service Centre and the Western Quebec School Board.
While schools in the Hauts-Bois-de-l’Outaouais School Service Centre resumed classes after 10:30 a.m., the Western Quebec School Board cancelled classes for the entire day.
“It would have been impossible to get all the students to the school for 10:45 a.m,” said George Singfield, the school board’s director general, adding that 90 per cent of the board’s students depend on school bus transportation.
Teachers working for the school board used the day for meetings and class preparations once the strike action was over.
More classroom support
Pontiac’s teachers were among the 420,000 public service workers across the province that participated in the one-day strike, in protest of the latest offer from the province in contract negotiations that have lasted months.
Darren McCready teaches Grade 5 at Dr. S. E. McDowell Elementary School. He’s also the chairperson for the Western Quebec Teachers Association, one of two unions representing teachers in the region.
McCready, who lives in Arnprior but has been teaching in Shawville for almost 20 years, said his top priority in this strike action is improved working conditions.
“The needs of the students have gotten greater over the last five to 10 years,” he said. “Unfortunately we don’t have as many services as we’d like to have to help these students.”
McCready said in his class of 18 students, 13 of them have individual education plans that require small group instruction.
“It’s quite challenging to help all these students and still try to run a regular classroom,” he said, adding these challenges are not unique to his classroom.
Higher wages
Teachers were also striking for higher wages on Monday.
In the latest offer from the province, which came on Oct. 28, base salaries would increase by 10.3 per cent.
“The government has offered the police a 21 per cent wage increase, and teachers, nurses, and social workers, for example, 10.3 per cent over five years. So something equitable would be nice to see,” McCready said.
“And of course, with the rate of inflation being as it is, obviously something to keep up our purchasing power.”

Common Front, the organization representing public service unions across the province, has called for an increase closer to 20 per cent over the next three years.
More strikes to come
McCready said he has heard talk that further strike actions might be planned for later in November, in alignment with larger strikes planned across the province.
The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, a union representing 65,000 teachers working in francophone school boards, has plans for an unlimited general strike beginning Nov. 23.
Common Front has also announced plans for another three-day strike Nov. 21-23, if a deal is not reached by then.
McCready said a future WQTA strike action in the Pontiac would only be a few days long.
“[It’s] to give the government a snapshot of what it will be like to have a half a million people out,” he said.

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