Quebec's largest nurses' union votes to join massive public sector strike in November

While 80,000 members of the FIQ voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike starting Nov. 8 and 9, hundreds of thousands of Quebec public sector workers plan to strike next month as well.

With bonuses a contentious issue, premier says some shifts are harder to fill without extra perks

people holding flags around woman at microphone
FIQ president Julie Bouchard, seen here speaking in November 2022, says Quebec has brought unacceptable offers to the negotiation table. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Tens of thousands of Quebec health-care professionals are expected to go on strike in November, joining hundreds of thousands of public sector workers who have already announced strikes of their own.

In a Wednesday evening news release, the interprofessional health-care workers' union, Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ), announced that 80,000 nurses, practical nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists voted 95 per cent in favour of the strike, which could range from one day to an indefinite general strike.

The strike mandate starts Nov. 8 and 9.

Union head Julie Bouchard says in the release that working conditions are already very difficult, and the province has brought "unacceptable" offers to the negotiating table.

She accuses Premier François Legault of treating workers like "interchangeable pawns. He has no respect for our professional judgment or our personal lives."

Although the strike can disrupt the activities of the health network, the release notes that health care is an essential service and professionals have the health of patients at heart.

The goal of the strike is to put pressure on the employer, not on the patients, the release says.

"Quebecers can count on the professionalism of health-care professionals in the health network," the release says.

Quebec Premier François Legault says some public-sector shifts are harder to fill and that's why bonuses are needed to keep people working. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The federation points out that its members are overwhelmingly women and for too long, the government has relied on the self-sacrifice of health-care professionals to operate a public network without the necessary resources.

"Gone are the days when we could impose conditions on health-care professionals that other workers, men, would refuse. We want to be paid our fair value, commensurate with our expertise," says Bouchard in the release.

Roberto Bomba, the treasurer at FIQ, says ending mandatory overtime and getting better nurse-to-patient ratios top the list of demands to the provincial government.

"There has to be a significant improvement of what's on the table currently with regard to working conditions, with regard to workload, with regard to remuneration," he told CBC's Daybreak on Thursday. 

Bomba says strikes can be difficult, but he insists patients will understand why health-care professionals need to take action. 

"They were there during the pandemic. They didn't have vacations. They didn't have days off. They didn't have weekends off. They did double shifts in and out, non stop," he said. 

"All they want is to be respected." 

This news comes soon after other health-care unions, forming an alliance called Le Front commun (the common front), announced a plan to strike on Nov. 6.

Those unions include the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) and Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique (APTS).

Tuesday, on the social network X (formerly Twitter), Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel announced that the government will present a new offer to union members on Sunday.

LeBel told reporters Wednesday that the government's offer will address concerns around bonuses. Those bonuses, paid to thousands of public employees, 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 morning, Legault met with health-sector employees who were demonstrating for better working conditions. With reporters watching, he discussed the government's priorities, particularly in terms of bonuses for harder-to-fill shifts.

"Yes, we must give salary increases to daytime staff, but we must give larger ones to full-time, night, weekend and regional staff," said Legault.

He said the government no longer wants to rely on agencies to fill those spots in the near future.

"But, for us to achieve this objective, we must agree to give more bonuses to shifts that are more difficult to fill," he said.

with files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Daybreak