Montreal

Quebec government presents new offer to public sector workers — but it falls short, say union leaders

The Quebec government is offering to increase public sector wages by up to 13.3 per cent over five years in an effort to wrap up negotiations with union leaders by the end of December.

Thousands of public sector workers to go on strike Nov. 6

Sonia LeBel in a red suit during a scrum with journalists.
Sonia LeBel, the Chair of the Conseil du trésor, presented public sector unions with a new offer Sunday morning in hopes of calling off the strikes. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

The Quebec government is offering to increase public sector wages by up to 13.3 per cent over five years in an effort to wrap up negotiations with union leaders by the end of the year. Some union leaders, however, say that's far from enough. 

In its latest offer, base salaries would increase by 10.3 per cent — just over a percentage point higher than the government's previous offer — while some jobs would benefit of an extra 2.5 to 3 per cent increase. 

Leaders from the common front of unions — known as the Front commun — who represent 420,000 workers in the health, education and social services sectors, said they are rejecting the government's offer during a news conference Sunday morning. 

They have called for an increase closer to 20 per cent over the next three years along with better working conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of workers will therefore continue with the day-long strike in November.

Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel told CBC she was shocked by how quickly the offer was rejected, the fourth "serious" offer since negotiations began, she said. 

"We are putting on the table more than $1 billion more on this offer for a total of $8 billion, and it's nearly a 15 per cent increase for [public sector] employees," she said.

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Unions representing half a million health, social services and education workers in Quebec have begun to provide strike dates as negotiations with the government drag on.

Éric Gingras, president of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec — one of the four unions that form the common front — called the offer "close to a slap in the face" for the province's public sector workers. The proposed 10.3 per cent increase would fail to keep up inflation rates forecasted over the few years, according to Gingras. 

He said the common front will spend the next few days looking to strike a deal but do not intend to make a new counter-offer anytime soon. 

If the government doesn't satisfy their demands, workers will hit the streets on Nov. 6, and possibly more days to come, Gingras said. 

A man stands in a hallway.
Éric Gingras, president of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec called the latest offer 'close to a slap in the face' for the province's public sector workers. (Fannie Bussières McNicoll/Radio-Canada)

Magali Picard, the leader of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ),  said she's "disappointed" and called the offer "insulting."

"With the announcement that was made this morning I can guarantee that the level of frustration will only go up," she said. 

François Enault, vice-president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, said the union's members don't understand how the Quebec government could offer provincial police a 21 per cent increase — an offer the force rejected — while offering an increase half that size to public sector workers after a year at the negotiating table.

Jérôme Rousseau, vice-president of the interprofessional health-care workers' union, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ) — which is not part of the common front — also expressed his frustration. The government hasn't listened to the solutions the FIQ put forward over the past year to strengthen the health-care system, he said.

"There's no recognition of the expertise and the contribution of health-care workers," he told reporters.

Rousseau said the FIQ is still open to negotiating with the government until its workers go on strike on Nov. 8 and 9. 

Political parties react

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, called the new offer, which is effectively lower than inflation, "inadmissible, unacceptable and it is an attack on the middle class in Quebec," saying it would only create more staffing shortages in the public sector. 

Meanwhile, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, said his party will review the offer before offering comment, "but it is up to up the workers to express themselves first."

 

with files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Radio-Canada