Following strong union mobilisation, nine days of strike action, and many weeks of intensive bargaining, the Front Commun that brings together Quebec’s public sector unions and the provincial government reached an agreement in principle for the renewal of public sector collective agreements at the end of December. The agreement is now in the hands of union members.
The 420,000 workers in the education and health sectors who are affiliated to the four trade union organisations forming the Front Commun – Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) and Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS) – are now called on to vote between 15 and 19 February 2024 on whether or not to ratify the agreement. For it to become a collective agreement, more than half of them will have to vote in favour.
Towards better pay and working conditions
As regards pay, the agreement provides for a 17.4% wage increase over five years, negotiated for all workers in all the sectors.
A 6% increase is scheduled for the first year of the agreement, backdated to 1 April 2023, if the agreement is accepted. This represents the biggest annual pay rise since 1982.
The Front Commun recalled that in December 2022 the government’s offer over five years was 9%, then 10.3% in October 2023, and 12.7% on 6 December 2023. The current offer of 17.4% is the biggest increase over the life of a collective agreement in decades. The increase also includes purchasing power protection of up to 1% for each of the last three years of the collective agreement.
In addition to the pay rises, the agreement sets out many other improvements to the collective agreement in areas such as leave, retirement, and insurance benefits or parental rights. For example:
- Entitlement to request a five-week holiday after 15 years of service. The five-week holiday becomes a right after 19 rather than 25 years of service;
- Improved retirement arrangements, including the possibility of extending the phased retirement agreement by up to seven years;
- Improvements to the parental rights scheme, including the addition of a day to the special leave allowance for pregnancy monitoring;
- An increase in the employer’s health insurance contributions;
- An increase in the attraction and retention bonus from 10% to 15% to counter the shortage of skilled workers;
- A 10% pay increase for psychologists in all sectors, paid for by the retirement regime;
- An additional 4,000 classroom assistants in the primary and secondary school system to support teachers faced with an increasingly heavy workload.
Union leaders satisfied
“Now it’s up to the members! The details of this agreement will be presented to them at general meetings and it is up to them to decide. Because yes, of course, pay is one thing, but there are a number of other interesting aspects to the proposal. The agreement has to be seen as a whole: the gains achieved in the areas negotiated at the central table are in addition to those achieved at the sectoral tables in terms of employment and working conditions. In short, the coming weeks will be a time for key discussions in our sectors,” said Front Commun spokespersons François Enault, first vice president of the CSN, Éric Gingras, president of the CSQ, Magali Picard, president of the FTQ, and Robert Comeau, president of the APTS, at a press conference on 7 January.
The union leaders added: “It has to be said that these negotiations have not been easy. It’s still too soon to put the whole year and a half into perspective, but one thing’s for sure: the strength of our members’ mobilisation – throughout Quebec – clearly made all the difference in getting the government to understand the needs of our sectors. It’s a colossal task, accomplished day after day on various levels. Far from the cameras, it is the workers who, from the very outset, consolidated the actions on the ground, ensured the Front Commun’s visibility, made our demands known and spread our message. We would like to congratulate them and thank them for all this.”
The spokespersons for the Front Commun “are immensely proud to have contributed to this great historic united front, speaking with one voice. Our resolve to join forces and work in solidarity has paid off.”
They concluded: “Public support has also been a key factor. In a way, the people of Quebec have also been part of this mobilisation by giving massive support to the workers’ demands. Thank you for that too!”
International solidarity with the workers of Quebec
In a letter to Quebec’s Prime Minister, François Legault, Education International (EI) supported the legitimate demands of the Front Commun and expressed its deep concern about the Quebec government’s refusal to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
For EI, this refusal amounted to “a failure to recognise the thousands of public service workers”.
With its affiliates in Quebec, and in partnership with Public Services International (PSI), EI also launched an online petition on the LabourStart trade union platform to demand that the Quebec government engage in meaningful collective negotiations with the public sector unions.