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Public sector strike: the Quebec government asks unions to present a counter-offer

The president of Quebec’s Treasury Board implored unions on Sunday to table a counter-offer to the government’s latest contract proposal, as a week of planned province-wide public sector strikes looms to begin.

Sonia LeBel posted a short video on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying the province’s latest offer was serious and deserved a counter-proposal, but the unions did not respond.

“There’s been no movement from the union, I’ve had no counter-offers, they haven’t offered anything in return,” LeBel said. The province’s latest offer is worth $8 billion and is the fourth submitted during negotiations.

The province is currently negotiating agreements with unions representing some 600,000 public sector workers. Teachers, nurses, health care workers, college professors and other public sector employees will be on strike multiple times over the coming week.

Unions rejected Quebec’s latest contract offer in late October for all employees – a 10.3 percent wage increase over five years and a one-time payment of $1,000 to each worker, up slightly from previous 9 percent offered last time for the same duration. December.

The government said the offer was serious and in line with inflation forecasts, but unions called the government’s offer insulting.

The unions have previously called for a three-year contract with annual increases linked to the rate of inflation: two percentage points above inflation in the first year or $100 per week, whichever is more beneficial, followed by three more points in the second year and four more points. In the third.

LeBel said that while no one disputes the importance of wages, she called on unions to be flexible, emphasizing that wage increases will not solve other outstanding issues, like overcrowded classrooms or hours additional compulsory for nurses.

“We have the chance in this negotiation to improve working conditions and services to the population,” said LeBel, adding that all parties must seize this opportunity.

The unions backed down on Sunday. The Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation – which represents 80,000 nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists and other health professionals – said the province’s offers were “contemptuous of health professionals” and irresponsible for safety healthcare workers.

“It is not the number of offers that counts, but what they contain,” responded the FIQ union on social networks in the run-up to two days of strike Thursday and Friday.

Also this week, members of four major public sector unions, representing a “common front” of some 420,000 workers, will be on leave between Tuesday and Thursday. This group includes the majority of elementary and secondary school teachers as well as school support staff and health care workers such as orderlies and technicians.

One of the quartet unions responded to LeBel’s latest remarks by saying different sectors had made proposals to the bargaining table, adding that’s where the government should focus its efforts.

“We said that if there was no agreement before the 21st (November), we would go on strike. It is clear that there will be no agreement before that date,” François said Enault, vice-president of the CSN, one of the four common front unions. “What we are saying is we are ready to negotiate, seven days a week, and we want a settlement.”

“The only thing we agree on with the government is that we want a settlement before the holidays,” he added.

Most schools will be closed between Tuesday and Thursday while the FAE union, which represents 65,000 elementary and secondary teachers in Quebec and which negotiates separately, launches an indefinite general strike on November 23.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published November 19, 2023.

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