It is starting to look like we may be in for a fall season of protests and possible strike action in the public sector as contract negotiations with the government drag on.
The contracts for public sector employees expired last March. The unions are frustrated at the pace of negotiations and the paltry government offers. And workers in the health, social services, and education sectors seem ready to back the unions all the way to an unlimited general walkout.
The CSN, CSQ, APTS, and FTQ have joined forces as the Front Commun, or common front, and they are making it clear that they will not back down. Thousands gathered in Montreal on September 23 for public sector union demonstrations including over 100 members from the SEPB union, which is affiliated with the FTQ and represents, among others, the support staff at the New Frontiers School Board. The support staff and the education professionals at the NFSB have voted 95 per cent in favour of strike action, which is consistent with the results pouring in from unions across the province that are currently holding general assemblies. The common front leaders have stated that they hope to avoid strikes, but they have the support they need among members to be bold.
They also have the public’s support. A survey carried out by SOM on behalf of the Front Commun suggests Quebecers are in tune with union demands. A significant majority (87 per cent) believe the government must improve working conditions for its public sector employees to remain competitive in the labour market. Over 85 per cent believe salaries should, at least, be indexed to the cost of living. The government’s current offer of nine per cent over five years falls short of this standard.
The government had the nerve to approve an immediate 30 per cent wage increase for MNAs in June. An offer of 21 per cent over five years was recently rejected by unionized members of the Sûreté du Québec. It’s no wonder frustrations are mounting. We are talking about our schools, our health care, our social services. The functioning of these public systems matters to all of us, and it is becoming harder to see a positive future when the government is looking backwards. Sarah Rennie