Quebec’s 400,000 public sector employees have been bargaining since their collective agreements, expired March 31, 2020.
Preparations for these negotiations, which are being coordinated by CUPE, began in the fall of 2019 and are being conducted under the umbrella of the Quebec Federation of Labour (QFL), in conjunction with three major affiliates in the public sector: Local 298 of the Quebec Union of Service Employees, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, and Local 800 of the Service Employee Union. To date, the proposals from the Government of Quebec have been unsatisfactory. They have proposed paltry wage increases of 1.75% (2020), 1.75% (2021), and 1.5% (2022).
The central issues are the establishment of a new wage structure in 2022, a significantly improved employer contribution to group insurance, an increased ratio of full-time positions to head off employment precarity, and better life-work balance through the reduction of atypical schedules.
The talks are taking place during a pandemic, which hammered the health care system during the first wave. There have been close to 7000 deaths across the province, particularly in long-term care facilities. More than 18,000 health care employees have come down with COVID-19, and 12 have died.
“The government is injecting $14 billion into infrastructure, in other words, concrete. It is high time that it invests in public services, in persons who, among other things, educate our children and take care of the ill and our seniors. Public services must be a priority for this government. It must act now and improve our members’ working conditions,” said Benoît Bouchard, President of CUPE Quebec.
Last September, two tentative agreements were reached with the bargaining team representing the patient attendants and health and social services auxiliaries. The former deals with the staffing of permanent full-time positions across the province, and the latter focuses on integrating new patient attendants into the health care system. We have solutions, and an agreement can be reached.
Another piece of encouraging data emerged. A CROP survey commissioned by the QFL, and its public sector affiliates, said that the majority of Quebeckers (75%) believe that an agreement to renew the collective agreements of government employees would help in the fight against COVID-19.
This fall, CUPE and the QFL called on their members and the public to mobilize in order to force the government to negotiate collective agreements that would significantly improve working conditions, and thereby, alleviate problems of recruiting and retaining staff. In November, workers from all sectors were invited to participate in a gesture of solidarity and take a 15-minute pause at 10 a.m. to salute the men and women working on the front lines in the health care and education sectors.
As a result, last November, workers from all sectors were invited to participate in a gesture of solidarity and take a 15-minute pause at 10 a.m. to salute the men and women working on the front lines in the health care and education sectors.