Quebec workers mark 'biggest strike ever in Canada'

Premier willing to put more money on the table, but unions have to be flexible

Quebec workers mark 'biggest strike ever in Canada'

With about 570,000 workers on strike at the same time, the Quebec government has expressed its willingness to give in to some of the unions’ demands.

Deadlocked are negotiations between the provincial government and the following unions, according to a report from the Montreal Gazette:

  • the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which represents 66,000 teachers under nine unions
  • the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), which represents 80,000 nurses and other health professionals
  • the common front of public-sector unions, which represents 420,000 workers who are members of the CSN, CSQ, APTS and FTQ
  • 700 members of the Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec

About 100,000 teachers who are members of the Front commun represented by the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement (FSE-CSQ) and the Association provinciale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec (APEQ- QPAT) also launched their strike action this week.

“Don’t forget that (Thursday’s) strike will see nearly 600,000 people in the streets of Quebec,” said CSN vice-president François Enault said in the report. “It’s going to be the biggest strike ever in Canada.”

Last month, almost 400 Unifor workers went on strike due to wage negotiation breakdown, shutting down a crucial North American freight shipping route.

More money for union flexibility

Amid the situation, the Quebec government expressed its willingness to give in to one of the demands of the workers.

“What I am saying is we are open to put more (money), if and only if we get more flexibility,” said Premier François Legault, according to the Montreal Gazette report. “It’s about time that Quebec obtained all the tools we need in order to give better services to the population.”

Legault said that, in negotiating with unions, he wants to change the way the health and education systems are organized so services respond better to client needs, according to the report. For instance, he wants for the government to be able to pay more to nurses who want to work weekends and nights, he said. 

Also, he claimed that the best way to fix the usual August chaos over the availability of teachers is to start earlier, but that implies more union flexibility.

“Come to the negotiation table,” Legault said to the unions. “In exchange for this flexibility, we are ready to improve our offer, which currently represents 14.8%.”

Legault, however, was not willing to say how much more money the government will devote to an agreement, according to the report. Quebec has said its current offer is worth $8 billion.

FSE-CSQ and APEQ- QPAT, however, recently claimed that the government is offering teachers a 10.3% increase over five years. That, however, represents “an impoverishment” of 7.8% over the long term for teaching staff, they said.

Thousands of Canadian workers have walked off their jobs throughout the country this year, and in August, two experts warned that more strike actions may be on the way.

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