As we move into December and the season of giving, it seems the Legault government prefers to play the Grinch. After nearly a solid week of public demonstrations, protests, and strikes, there does not appear to be much willingness to show workers any generosity at the negotiating tables.
The premier said last week that he was prepared to offer more money to public sector employees, but only if the unions give up their fight for better working conditions. The government is asking for more flexibility from nurses and health care professionals so they can be transferred between centres and institutions when necessary. They are asking teachers to be more flexible with class sizes and scheduling. It sounds reasonable, until you consider that many of those working in the public sector are flexed to their max and are about to snap. Requiring any more “give” may not only compromise our workers, but our health and education systems as a whole.
As of press time, the unions say Legault’s promise of additional funds hasn’t trickled down from media headlines to a concrete offer on the table, even with the addition of a conciliator last week to bring the sides closer together. Legault and the province’s treasury board president, Sonia LeBel, have preferred to negotiate in the public sphere – by making announcements during press conferences and on social media, rather than behind closed doors during negotiations. While hundreds of teachers protested outside the Radio-Canada studios Sunday night, LeBel took a seat around the table for a segment on Tout le Monde en Parle, where she again called for flexibility.
Polls suggest most Quebecers are in support of the public sector workers. Maybe last week’s strikes were loud enough to resonate in Quebec. There is no doubt that any further strike action will be disruptive. Parents will have to work around school closures and there will be some delays in healthcare services. It would be nice to think a general strike could be averted because the government’s heart grew a few sizes bigger. We can hope for a quick resolution; but in the event this draws out any further, we should stand with our public sector workers as they push for the contracts they deserve, so we can continue to benefit from the services they so expertly provide.