Montreal·CBC Explains

Why Quebec public sector workers are striking and how it could affect you

On Monday, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers went on strike. Many more strike days from other groups could be on the way.

Quebec's latest offer to the common front of unions was quickly rejected

people protesting
Members with the common front of unions, known in French as the Front commun, protested in Montreal on Oct. 26. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

November is shaping up to be a month of strikes — that is unless the Quebec government strikes deals in long-stalled negotiations with the province's public sector unions.

The first strike day Quebecers need to be aware of is Monday, Nov. 6.

As it stands, unions representing hundreds of thousands of health, social services and education workers in Quebec, known collectively as the common front, are going on strike that day.

In a nutshell, workers are calling for better pay and better conditions. On Oct. 29, the workers with the common front quickly rejected the latest offer from the province.

The province is also negotiating with other groups and union.

The province's biggest nurses' union, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ), — which also represents respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists — is also planning a two-day, all-day strike next Wednesday and Thursday.

The Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), which represents tens of thousands of teachers in Quebec, has announced that it will go on an unlimited strike on Nov. 23.

So how might this all affect Quebecers who aren't hitting the picket lines? Let's look at what you can expect on Monday.

WATCH | Why public sector workers are striking: 

How Quebec's public sector labour dispute could affect you

6 months ago
Duration 0:59
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.

School closures

On Nov. 6, schools with striking staff will not open until 10:30 a.m. That creates a tricky situation for schools and parents.

First, parents who normally drop their kids off at their school's daycare service before classes start will have to rethink their plans. Then, there's the issue of when classes begin.

Classes at the the English Montreal School Board and the Lester B. Pearson School Board will start at 11 a.m. Those at the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board will begin at 11:15 a.m.

Most, if not all, French school service centres, including the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal, have opted to cancel classes in the morning and resume classes in the afternoon.

A man stands in a hallway.
Zsolt Szaktilla has been teaching for the past 30 years. He says he backs the strike because teachers aren't getting the support they need. (Sara Eldabaa/CBC)

For each of the school boards and service centres, bus transportation and daycare services will resume on Monday afternoon after classes. Parents of children who use the Transco bus service will need to find an alternative however. That company began an unlimited strike last Monday. 

On Monday Nov. 6, CEGEPs will be closed until noon.

Zsolt Szaktilla teaches at the Rosemount Technology Centre in Montreal. He's been teaching for the past 30 years and he supports the strike. Large class sizes and a lack of resources, especially for teachers with special needs students, are some of the reasons why. 

"We have very little or no help whatsoever," he said. 

Will this affect health care?

Yes, but it's not entirely clear how.

Essential services will still be provided, but the health network won't be running at full speed.

Éric Gingras, president of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec — part of the common front — says health professionals will see their workload reduced by 20 to 50 per cent, depending on the hospital, clinic or establishment, but essential services will be maintained.

Slowdown in nursing services are also expected.

Emergency care, intensive care and assistance for residents living in facilities managed by regional health authorities will be maintained, according to the CIUSSS Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal and CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

People sit behind a desk.
The common front, which represents 420,000 union members, announced this morning that its members are going on strike on Monday Nov.6. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

How'd it get to this?

The common front has been around for half a century, but as public sector labour negotiations with the government have become more centralized, frustrations have exploded, resulting in a "massive strike vote," says Andrea Talarico, professor of labour law and labour relations at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

The economic slowdown and rampant inflation have also helped set tensions alight. 

"People are burnt out, especially in the health and social services sector. There are fewer workers, doing more work, causing more resentment, leading to more burnout and so the tensions are much higher this year."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Bongiorno is an author, former high school teacher and a journalist at the CBC. He has also reported for Canadian Geographic, Maisonneuve, Canada’s National Observer and others. You can reach him at joe.bongiorno@cbc.ca.

with files from Jay Turnbull and Sara Eldabaa

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