The contracts of public and semi-public workers across the province expired April 1 while negotiations between the province and union are still ongoing.
On March 20, 75,000 workers had taken to the streets demanding that a collective agreement be reached by March 31, and marched again on April 8.
Louis Roy, first vice president of the Confédération des syndica nationats (CSN), said that the goal of the demonstration was to force the government to negotiate without resorting to a general strike.
“When we decided to do this demonstration, it was because we told the government last year…if you want to negotiate with us and we are not on strike, they have the opportunity to do that before March 31. The possibility of a strike will come after April 1,” said Roy.
“If we don’t settle the agreement for March 31, we will fall in the usual way of negotiations with maybe a strike in the autumn. If [so], the government will have missed an opportunity to do something new – to settle without a strike and without a decree,” he added.
Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, treasury board president of the Quebec Liberal Party, said union leaders had set March 31 as a symbolic deadline for a collective agreement – the same day that labour contracts for public sector employees, imposed by the Quebec government in 2005, expire.
As the union’s symbolic deadline came and went, they decided to continue negotiations until April 20.
“At the latest, on April 20, if sector agreements are still not on the horizon, we’ll depose requests for mediation in view of bringing the two parties together for a final regulation,” Michel Arseneault, president of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), said in an April 8 CSN press release.
Through labour contracts, the Quebec government imposed a two-year pay freeze, followed by four two per cent increases in wages, on public service employees.
The Front commun syndical was created in May last year in order to represent public sector employees in negotiations with the Quebec government. It consists of the Secrétariat intersyndical des services publics (SISP), the CSN, and the FTQ, and represents 475,000 public and semi-public workers.
In a press release responding to the protests, Gagnon-Tremblay said that Quebec is offering a global raise of seven per cent in five years, which corresponds to $2.3 million.
The Front commun syndical is demanding a 11.25 per cent pay raise over three years.
Roy said that the wages of public sector workers, when measured in terms of purchasing power, are decreasing.
“[Public service employees] had two years of frozen wages, in 2004 and 2005, and we are just trying to get back to the level [of purchasing power parity] we were at [before these years].”
Gagnon-Tremblay called union demands unrealistic, predicting that granting an 11.25 per cent pay raise over three years would cost $8 billion.
“I know that these billions of dollars look [like a large amount], but we are working for 500,000 people, and these people are paid less than the equivalent job in the private sector,” said Roy.
Roy said that negotiations will be difficult. “Until now, the government is asking for concessions – and they don’t offer a lot of money for wages. We are still working hard…. This government is not really close to people working in [public] services.”