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With just a few days left before the collective agreements for employees in the public and para-public sectors expire, tens of thousands of people, members and friends of the SISP-CSN-FTQ Common Front from all regions of Quebec, marched through the streets of Montreal to remind the government that negotiation is the key to improving public services.

The President of the Treasury Board called yesterday for a negotiations blitz, as demanded by the Common Front. This was a welcome announcement, but it will be judged by its fruit: “On other occasions, including February 19, the President of the Treasury Board announced a period of intensive negotiations, but it never materialized. We remain cautious and will assess the level of government commitment next week. The trade unions of the Common Front are available for intensive negotiations, but are keeping in mind that there can be no global agreement without agreements at the sectoral level. This means that to achieve the March 31 objective, the sectoral negotiations need to move forward and the government must show its good faith by withdrawing some of the major impediments to that progress,” say the representatives of the Common Front.

“These negotiations are crucial for the future of public services in health, education, human safety and environmental protection. The government needs to listen to the message of the thousands of citizens gathered today demanding concrete solutions to workplace problems that have a direct impact on services to the population,” said CSN President Claudette Carbonneau.

Hundreds of people, private sector union members and community groups joined the protest to support the claims of the Common Front. For these people, public services concern us all because they reflect the collective choices of Quebec society. They provide an essential social safety net and the best tool for redistributing wealth.

“In the past, the public sector was the envy of many other sectors of society, but unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Wage gaps widening year after year and deteriorating working conditions have stripped the public sector of its former glory,” added the President of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Michel Arsenault.

For the Common Front, “change is imperative to ensure the sustainability of public services and to attract and retain a skilled workforce. The staff shortage has already been felt in every job category for several years. And that situation will be aggravated by massive departures due to retirement, poor working conditions and remuneration that is simply not competitive. The health, education and public service sectors are becoming increasingly less attractive and many workers are moving to private enterprise, with its better working conditions and higher wages,” noted the spokesperson for the Secrétariat intersyndical des services publics (SISP), Dominique Verreault.

The Common Front is asking for wage increases of 2% per year to protect the purchasing power of wage earners. It also wants a catch-up wage increase to make public sector salaries more competitive. In this regard, it has requested an annual average catch-up of 49 cents per hour, equivalent to 1.75% of average earnings.

The Common Front comprises 475,000 public service employees. They include civil servants, professionals working for the government, and unionized workers in the health and education networks and certain government agencies. The Common Front is composed of the SISP (CSQ, FIQ, SFPQ, APTS and SPGQ), the CSN (FSSS, FEESP, FNEEQ and FP) and the FTQ (CUPE, SQEES, COPE and UES).