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Canada: Quebec teaching union members deplore government monologue in public-sector negotiations

The Centrale des syndicats du Québec (Quebec Labour Congress – CSQ) has urged the government of Quebec to engage in full social dialogue and respond to solutions put forward by trade unionists with a view to halting financial austerity measures, improving employees’ working conditions and thereby strengthening public services, particularly education, in the Canadian province.

As the President of the Treasury Board, Christian Dubé, has chosen to undertake the negotiation in public by disseminating a copy-and-paste version of the government offer of 27 April – which, apart from a few details, is a copy-and-paste of the offer of 12 December 2019 – the CSQ has had to conclude that the negotiations look very much like a government monologue.

“Rather than sitting down to listen to the solutions put forward by the unions who represent the workers, the government insists on imposing its vision of the organisation of work,” complained CSQ President Sonia Ethier.

She also believes “it is more urgent than ever for the government to listen to the solutions we suggest in order to improve the working conditions of staff in schools and higher education, as well as health and social workers”.

For this reason, the members of the CSQ adopted a resolution deploring the government’s proposal at their general negotiating council on 27 May. They also reaffirmed the importance of investing quickly in the school and college network, as well as in health and social services.

Still no response to the counter-proposal

In response to the Treasury Council’s disappointing offer, on 6 May, the CSQ submitted a counter-proposal respecting the negotiating framework required by the government: a three-year agreement taking into account the new crisis context and the need to provide an urgent revaluation of jobs in health and education.

Ethier believes the lack of government reaction to this “is unworthy of a government that is trying to negotiate seriously. It is clear that the paradise depicted by the President of the Treasury Council and what is happening at the negotiating table are worlds apart.”

The leader of the CSQ also specified that “just because the government repeats its unacceptable offer three times, that doesn’t make it a better one” and she complained that the government was “totally detached from the problems on the ground both now and before the crisis”.

She also stated that “after years of budget restrictions, the Quebec government is facing a dilemma: playing the broken record of austerity once again and aggravating staff shortages or investing in working conditions that value its employees and improve its services to the population. It’s now or never!”

Prepare for the post-crisis period now

The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the crucial importance of public services and Ethier stressed that “to prepare for the post-crisis period, we remind the government that massive investment in the care of young children, education, health and social services must be at the heart of an economic and social relaunch strategy”.

She also stressed that, by responding to its employees’ needs and massively reinvesting in health, schools and higher education, the provincial government would “kill three birds with one stone”: stimulating the economy, revaluing some largely female jobs, and improving services to Quebec families.

According to Ethier, “cuts, negligence and lack of investment in the staff of schools, colleges, hospitals and centres for elderly people have ravaged services to the population for years. The house is burning down. If the situation was difficult before the crisis, it has now become untenable. Staff shortages and problems in attracting workers have been worsening at frightening speed for weeks now.”

The CSQ is  inviting the government to send a clear signal: does it want to improve the working conditions of health, school and higher education staff?
“If it does not, we cannot sign a cut-price agreement and then warn our members’ that their toxic working conditions are going to last for the next three years,” concluded Ethier.