CUPE and the FTQ have uncovered some shocking statistics about the high-cost of “independent” labour in health and social services, one day before a bill is to be tabled in Quebec City.

Between 2016 and 2022, a total of $3 billion was spent on private sector labour in the public system. Costs have ballooned, rising from $170,294,033 in 2016-2017 to $917,643,094 in 2021-2022. This sharp increase has also been noted in the total wage bill, where the corresponding figures, in percentages, rose from 1.48% in 2016-2017 to 5.42% in 2021-2022.

Category 1 personnel, including professions such as nurses and respiratory therapists, receive great attention whenever the issue of private sector agencies comes up. This category accounted for about $861 million from 2016 to 2022. 

Category 2 personnel, including professions such as personal support workers, maintenance and sanitation employees, and specialized workers, now accounts for a staggering $1.5 billion.

“This earth-shattering data is extremely worrisome for Quebeckers. The public system is quickly losing personnel who are being hired by private agencies that offer them better schedules. It’s a vicious cycle and an insult to workers remaining in the public system,” says FTQ President Magali Picard. “In addition, labour from private agencies costs taxpayers about one-third more than in-house labour, even when benefits are factored in. The money wasted in agency personnel should instead be invested in public sector labour to improve working conditions and ensure better retention.”

Maxime Ste-Marie, of the Conseil provincial des affaires sociales (CPAS-CUPE), notes that: “People from agencies are not there for the long haul. They come and go quickly. They don’t have enough time to become acquainted with the institution, patients, colleagues, or equipment. This conflicts with the principle of continuous care, which is crucial. Increased use of agencies is a sure sign that care and services are deteriorating, which adversely impacts the public.”

The union calls for the halt of the utilization of private agencies and for the work to be brough the public system.

“There is no reason to turn to these agencies, aside from filling the pockets of intermediaries. All staff must be brought back to the public system and offered attractive working conditions,” says Picard.

The FTQ is the largest labour federation in Quebec and represents more than 600,000 workers.