Quebec unions representing 400,000 public sector workers set to strike Nov. 6

Quebec unions say they will hit the streets soon, as the province is set to table a new offer. The unions represent more than 400,000 workers in health, education and social services.

Job action could touch health, education and social services

People are in the street with banners and signs.
Thousands of public and parapublic sector employees, members of the common front, demonstrated last month in Montreal while they were in the middle of negotiations for the renewal of collective agreements. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press.)

Public sector unions representing hundreds of thousands of health, social services and education workers in Quebec are holding a one-day strike on Nov. 6.

The common front of unions — the Front commun —  made the announcement Thursday morning. 

The group says essential services will be maintained on the day of the strike.

The common front represents 420,000 members and is made up of the following entities:

  • The Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ).
  • The Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN). 
  • The Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS). 
  • The Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

The strike mandate, adopted by 95 per cent of the members of the unions, provides for strike days, isolated or grouped, before reaching the point of an indefinite strike.

A fifth union not part of the common front, the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), which represents teachers in the province, has also voted in favour of an unlimited strike but has not set a date.

Thousands of public and para-public sector employees demonstrated last month in Montreal while they were in the middle of negotiations for new collective agreements.

Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel is due to table a new offer next Sunday in hopes of reaching a deal to end negotiations that have dragged on for months.

LeBel told reporters in Quebec City the decision to strike is up to the unions.

People stand outside.
Quebec Premier François Legault speaks to union members demonstrating on Wednesday. (Radio-Canada)

"What I have wanted since the start of this negotiation, what drives me, what motivates me, is to be able to settle as quickly as possible and settle with an improvement in services to the population," LeBel said.

LeBel is also expected to announce what will happen to bonuses paid to thousands of provincial employees. They were expected to end on March 31 but were extended first to Sept. 30 and again to Oct. 15. They are paid out to certain workers including nurses, psychologists and specialized workers.

On Wednesday, Quebec Premier François Legault spoke to CSQ members demonstrating near the National Assembly, where he mentioned that a fourth offer — one he described as "enhanced'" — would be tabled.

The unions are seeking a three-year contract with annual increases tied to the inflation rate — two percentage points above inflation in the first year or $100 per week, whichever is more beneficial, followed by three points higher in the second and four points higher in the third year.

Earlier this year, the government improved its offer to employees of the health and education networks.

The common front quickly rejected the initial offer from the Quebec government last December, which proposed a nine per cent salary increase over five years plus a lump sum payment of $1,000 for the first year. The offer also included other increases that would have brought the total offer to 13 per cent over five years.

Legault reiterated his desire to bump up salaries for "shifts that are more difficult to fill," particularly at night, on weekends and in remote regions.

"We cannot say: 'We're giving a 21 per cent increase to everyone and, on top of that, we're giving night bonuses,' we have to find a balance according to the government's ability to pay," Legault said.

During the exchange, a union member reminded Legault that Quebec politicians voted to give themselves a 30 per cent salary increase. The government also offered Quebec provincial police officers 21 per cent over five years — an offer that was rejected last month.

with files from Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press