Montreal

Unions announce 3 more strike days as 420,000 Quebec public workers walk off the job today

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in education, health and social services are on strike Monday, with unions announcing three more strike days later this month.

Common front of unions vows to strike again Nov. 21-23 unless deal can be reached

People waving flags on the side of the road in protest.
Thousands of Quebec public sector workers are striking today to express their dissatisfaction with the government's contract offers. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

The unions representing hundreds of thousands of public sector workers who walked off the job today have announced three more strike days planned for Nov. 21 to 23 unless a deal can be reached before then. 

About 420,000 public sector workers went on strike Monday as part of a one-day walkout to protest the Quebec government's latest contract offer, disrupting schools, health-care facilities and social services. 

Workers from a common front of unions, known in French as the Front commun are taking part in large demonstrations across the province.

Members are looking for better wages and working conditions after quickly dismissing the province's latest offer on Oct. 28.

The common front 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).

"For a period of 72 consecutive hours, everything in Quebec will be closed for three days," said CSN vice-president François Enault of the upcoming strike days at a news conference. 

FTQ president Magali Picard said workers will walk off the job again unless the government returns to the negotiating table with "real offers." 

The government's latest contract offer that was rejected included an increase of 10.3 per cent over five years for base salaries — just over a percentage point higher than its previous offer — while some jobs would get an extra 2.5 to three per cent increase. 

The common front has called for an increase closer to 20 per cent over the next three years.

Needs high, support low

Lara Belinsky, a physical education teacher at Willingdon Elementary, a French immersion school in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, said her workload has become much more difficult to manage, and it's affecting her students.

On Monday, she spoke through tears on the picket line. 

"We care about these kids so much, but the reality is there's only so much that we can do," she said, adding "the needs are high but the support is low." 

Belinsky said she would keep the same pay if it meant she would be given more resources to better care for her students, who she says have needed more emotional support than ever since the start of the pandemic. 

"The well-being of the kids is really in jeopardy because of the situation that we're being put in every day." 

People holding signs at a protest.
Quebec public sector workers in health, education and social services are looking for better wages and working conditions. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

Monday's job action started at midnight and caused headaches this morning for parents of school-age children, with striking staff in schools only starting work at 10:30 a.m. 

For English school boards, that meant classes began at 11 a.m. Most of the French school service centres, if not all of them, opted to cancel classes in the morning and bring in students in the afternoon. CEGEPs were closed until noon.  

Some support staff gathered outside Royal Vale School, down the street from Willingdon, to voice their frustrations at the government's offer. 

WATCH | Public sector workers want better pay and better conditions:

'Exhaustion on a daily basis' among reasons why Quebec workers are striking

6 months ago
Duration 1:00
Some education and health-care workers say they're walking off the job because they're overworked and underpaid.

Keana Mervil-Earle, a support worker who helps students with physical disabilities, says she has to work two other jobs just to stay afloat. 

"I do tutoring, I work at [a] hospital, I work at the after school program at the school … it's a struggle," she said. 

A woman holds a sign that reads "school support staff" at a demonstration.
Keana Mervil-Earle, a support worker who helps students with physical disabilities at Royal Vale, says she has two other jobs just to make ends meet. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Some disruptions are still ongoing in health-care settings Monday, with staff taking on reduced workloads, but essential services are being provided.

Makelia Murrell, a senior pharmacy technician at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, says her workload has piled up due to staffing shortages, but her pay has remained the same. 

Drained after most shifts, she says her job is taking a toll on her home life. 

"I get home and I'm unable to perform what I have to do for my family," said the mother of two children, six and 11. 

"Just to go do the groceries is a hassle because I'm tired." 

A woman holds a flag at a protest.
Makelia Murrell, a senior pharmacy technician at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, says her workload is taking a toll on her home life. She wants to be better compensated by the government. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Dalia Cassano, a medical imaging technologist at the hospital, also says her personal life is taking a hit — especially when she's forced to work 16-hour shifts. 

"You're practically living here at the hospital … you don't see many people, you're always tired, you're always working but we love our jobs, so we do what we can," she said. 

Cassano says her paycheque is also making it hard to survive, noting she couldn't even get a second job if she wanted to due to her hectic schedule. 

Negotiations a 2-way street, says government

Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel reacted to the strike Monday on X, formerly Twitter, saying while public employees should benefit from good working conditions, unions must also help reorganize the system. 

Lebel says if unions are not satisfied with the government's latest offer, they need to make a counter-offer.

"Negotiations cannot be a one-way street," she wrote.

The Quebec government is juggling multiple labour disputes and there will likely be more strike days from other unions starting later this week.

The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), the province's largest health union, is scheduled to go on strike Wednesday and Thursday.

Last Thursday, the Fédération Autonome de l'Enseignement, which represents a group of teachers' unions which have about 65,000 members total, announced its plans to go on an unlimited strike as of Nov. 23.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kwabena Oduro

Journalist

Kwabena Oduro is a video journalist who joined CBC Montreal in 2020. He enjoys reporting on sports, community stories and anything that brings a smile to people's faces. Have a story idea? Drop him an email at kwabena.oduro@cbc.ca.

with files from CBC's Kwabena Oduro

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