Area nurses and other health professionals sent a clear message to the provincial government on Wednesday. The 2,790 nurses, auxiliary nurses, respiratory therapists, and clinical percussionists at the CISSS de la Montérégie-Ouest launched a 48-hour strike along with health professionals from across the province in response to lagging contract negotiations.
They staged protests outside hospitals, health institutions, and long-term care centres, walking off the job for the first time in nearly 25 years. With its 80,000 members already on the picket line, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ) announced two additional strike days will take place on November 23 and 24 if an agreement is not reached before then.
“We are just arms, and our patients are nothing but numbers to this government,” says Dominic Caisse, the interim president of the Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de la Montérégie-Ouest. “Today, we are saying ‘enough is enough.’ There are limits. If the government wants to settle negotiations, they must absolutely improve their salary offer to take inflation into account and provide working conditions that will attract and retain care professionals in the public health network!” he exclaimed.
The FIQ quickly rejected the most recent proposal by Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel of a 10.3 per cent increase over five years, which included a one-time payment of $1,000 and a three per cent raise for work corresponding with government priorities. In response to this offer and the stalled negotiations since, the union says they have no other option than to announce new strike dates given the government’s refusal to listen to solutions being proposed at the bargaining table.
The FIQ is concerned about wages, but also work-life balance and work overload. They are asking specifically for the government to legislate safe nurse/patient ratios, while seeking more stability in terms of work assignments. Union representatives argue the government wants the ability to change nursing shifts when necessary and transfer personnel between health care institutions.
Caisse says the team for the FIQ was at the negotiation table with government representatives on Wednesday and will be back again on Thursday. “The government has been turning a deaf ear to our demands for the past year,” he explains, suggesting the union has little choice other than to increase their pressure tactics.
Essential services to ensure patient health and safety are being maintained during this first strike. This will also be the case on November 23-24; however, some patients may experience interruptions or inconveniences during the work stoppage.
The 420,000 members of the Front commun have also promised to launch a 72-hour strike from November 21 to 23 if an agreement in principle is not reached. The FAE union, which represents around 65,000 elementary and secondary school teachers, has also announced the start of an unlimited general strike will take place on November 23.