Several Quebec public sector employee unions are expected to start a series of rotating strike days starting October 26. Teachers, health workers, and the province’s two largest labour federations are getting ready to hold demonstrations across the province at the start of this week if no serious progress is made during the ongoing negotiations.
The Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), which represents over 325,000 workers and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), representing more than 130,000 members, voted overwhelmingly in favour of holding a strike earlier in the month. This mobilization comes in the aftermath of a series of failed contract negotiations and cutbacks with the provincial government. The rotating strikes are expected to start in the Laurentides on October 26 and finish in Montreal and Laval on November 16 and 17.
The Front commun, a coalition of public sector unions, is also expected to hold three consecutive days of striking from December 1 to 3, across the health and education sectors. According to a press release on the Front commun website, almost a year has passed since the union filed its demands and negotiations with the government started.
The unions’ main concerns include a two-year salary freeze, followed by a salary raise of 1 per cent over the next three years, and the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62. Other concerns are job insecurity, setbacks in the working conditions, the transition of services towards the private sectors, in accessibility of public services, and the loss of professional autonomy for employees in the public sector.
Speaking to The Daily, Maxime Clément, the press officer of the Secrétariat intersyndical des services publics (SISP), expressed frustration with the current offers. “The offers on the table right now are just unacceptable, […] in five years the [salary] would have an increase of 2 per cent, which is way below the life cost increase.”
“With all the workers who are retiring [in] the next year, we must be able to attract [a] qualified workforce. With salaries like that it will be really tough for the public sector to recruit in the next years.”
“With all the workers who are retiring [in] the next year, we must be able to attract [a] qualified workforce. With salaries like that it will be really tough for the public sector to recruit in the next years,” Clément added.
The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), a union that represents over 34,000 French-language teachers across the province, which has already been on a one-day strike on September 30, has also voted in favour of a strike following a work-to-rule mandate earlier in the year. It will be holding three consecutive strike days on October 26, 27 and 28, and the intended strike action will coincide with the labour federation’s first days of striking.
FAE’s main concerns include the proposed increase in teacher-student ratios, the elimination of funds toward special needs children’s services, the removal of 800 special education and resource-teacher jobs, a two-year salary freeze, and cuts to the employee pension plans. The Quebec French-language teachers have been negotiating without a contract since April 2014.
The Montreal Teachers Association (MTA), which represents all the teachers working for the English Montreal School Board, will be holding strike days as well.
“We have a strike day in the [English Montreal School Board (EMSB)] for teachers on October 29, and we have two more scheduled for November 16 and 17 […] assuming we need them,” MTA President Peter Sutherland told The Daily. “If the negotiations still don’t get settled, we could be on strike December 1, 2, and 3,” he added.
“If the negotiations still don’t get settled, we could be on strike December 1, 2, and 3.”
The English-language teachers of Quebec have similar concerns as those represented by the FAE. According to Sutherland, the Quebec government initially proposed removing the practice of having smaller class sizes when classes included children with special needs.
“For example, when they [were forming] a class they [took] into account the students in that class with special needs,” Sutherland said. “If there were many [children with special needs,] then the class didn’t have as many students in it. Initially [the government] wanted to remove all that.”
“We’ve been attending a lot of the meetings that the [university sector unions have] been having […] as well as lending our support discursively,” said Molly Swain, president of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE).
Quebec’s labour federations have promised further disruption if the provincial government refuses to negotiate. The CSQ has also released a statement notifying that the series of strikes is part of the first phase and further scenarios will be considered if the negotiators have not found an agreeable settlement by November 9.