In 2021-2022, the absenteeism rate of staff from school service centers in Québec due to illness jumped 29% compared to 2014-2015. At issue: the psychological malaise that puts the troops on the floor, and not just the teachers. School secretaries and janitors are also at their wit’s end.

The figures sent to La Presse by the Fédération des centers de services scolaire du Québec (FCSSQ) also reveal that the rate of absenteeism due to illness is at its highest in ten years.

Women are the most affected, in all job categories, without exception – executives, professionals, teachers and support staff.

The FCSSQ observes in this regard that this is “a trend that goes back a long time”.

“Different reasons can explain the higher rate of absenteeism among women than among men,” notes the organization. In particular, women generally have more family responsibilities than men when it comes to children and caring for elderly or sick family members. »

For the year 2021-2022, disabilities of a mental nature represent 57.14% of absences, and this proportion increases a little more each year, indicates the FCSSQ.

These statistics come as no surprise to Mélanie Hubert, president of the Autonomous Federation of Education (FAE). “Teachers take a lot of medication. As a union, we know this because it puts a lot of pressure on the insurance plans. The school network is on its knees. »

Service centers and English school boards provided their data to the FCSSQ on a voluntary basis. In all, 58 (out of 72) did so and recorded 1,082,659 days lost out of a possible 26.2 million days worked. This means that if the school authorities had all responded, the total would be well over one million days lost.

Pascale Désormeaux sympathizes with all the staff in bad shape and is in no way surprised by this increasing absenteeism. After 16 years as an elementary school teacher, she hit a wall and lifted the veils. Teaching is over. She chose a few years ago to become a waitress in a restaurant whose owner is herself an ex-teacher who needed to change her life.

Ms. Désormeaux recalls this surreal conversation with a parent who was outraged that she was contacting him to tell him about her son’s behavioral problems. He told her bluntly, she recalls, that he didn’t bother her when he had problems with his son at home, and that in class, it was up to her. And don’t let her bother him again.

“The majority of parents are kind and when there is only one like that, it is fine. But the problem is the buildup. »

Today, she agrees to do some replacements in adult education, but most of her income comes from her job as a waitress. “It’s less prestigious to say I’m a waitress, but I decided to prioritize my mental health. »

Josée Scalabrini, president of the Federation of Teachers’ Unions (FSE-CSQ), believes that shortages are closely linked to absenteeism.

For example, she says that when she was a young teacher, emergency substitutes were almost never requested. Today, because there are so many holes to fill and reminder lists are dry, they are commonplace. “Some teachers even do it every day,” she observes, pointing out that it’s in addition to the work they also do on evenings and weekends.

Sure, emergency locum is paid, and yes, she says, “some like it because it gives them extra income,” but many are also pushing their own limits.

For fear of increasing the burden on their colleagues, many also wait until they are totally exhausted before retiring, so that the slope to climb back up is all the steeper.

Another problem is that those returning from sick leave are expected to return to work pedal to the mat, so many of them quickly fall back into battle.

“There can be up to four disability leaves in a row,” notes Scalabrini.

The great fatigue of teachers is often put forward. But the numbers show a particularly strained support staff.

“Some are secretaries for a school of 400 students, but others are secretaries for a school of 800 students and they have the same salary,” notes Éric Pronovost, president of the Fédération du personnel de soutien scolaire (CSQ).

Very often, he adds, “the principals are absent because they have meetings at the school service centre. So the secretary is often left alone to handle parent calls and all that.”

The support staff union also includes special education technicians whose task, in recent years, has been to come to the aid of teachers who are unable to control a student in crisis in the classroom. Normally, if these technicians were numerous enough, they would have time to act upstream, in prevention, instead of being on the alert all the time, observes Mr. Pronovost.

He also wishes to underline the fatigue of the janitors who, since the pandemic, “not only clean, but who are asked to disinfect everything”.