The union representing most K-12 educational staff in Manitoba schools is calling on the Manitoba government and School Divisions to keep all K-12 workers on the payroll during COVID-19.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced today that the schools across Manitoba will be suspended indefinitely, and that school support staff could be laid off.

“Education Assistants (EAs) still have work to do to support our students; custodians and trades still need to take care of our schools,” said Abe Araya, President of CUPE and a school custodian himself.  “We need all hands on deck to support our students while they learn from home, and School Divisions need to do everything possible to keep EAs and support staff working for our young people.”

The Minister told reporters that each School Division is responsible for finding “value added” from support staff, and that it is up to the Divisions to decide whether or not to lay off employees.

Premier Jason Kenney recently made major cuts to the education system in Alberta as a result of school suspensions, moving money out of the education system to be used elsewhere, which was widely labeled as a “reckless” move by educators.

“School Divisions in Manitoba have already budgeted for their staff for the year, and that needs to be seen through,” said Araya. “School Divisions need to be creative in helping EAs support students through digital tools, and students with special needs, language barriers, and who face socio-economic challenges will need even more support than ever.”

School custodians, trades, and clerical staff still have work they can be doing to keep our schools maintained and operational for students and their families. Librarians can still be used as resources for teachers and families.

School bus drivers can also be tasked with delivering education materials, especially to families who may not have access to the internet.

“Any cuts to staffing will hurt our schools, and hurt our children’s education, especially now that so many students are facing challenging times learning from home,” said Araya.  “Students, parents, and teachers need to know that they have access to the supports they need to help students succeed.”

CUPE represents approximately 5,000 education support staff in school divisions across Manitoba, including EAs, custodians, maintenance and trades, secretaries, librarians, mechanics, bus drivers, international student support, school liaisons and more.