Quebec Public Sector Negotiations

Workers Speak Out About Their Concerns and Needs

Public sector workers march in Quebec city, October 30, 2019, as they submit their contract demands to the Quebec government.

Quebec's 500,000 or so public sector workers are beginning negotiations for the renewal of their collective agreements, which expire on March 31, 2020. The unions representing them have put forward their cross-sectoral demands (wages, pension plans, etc.) and their sectoral demands which pertain to the working conditions of specific categories of workers. Under the hoax of ensuring the health of public finances, the Quebec government has declared that it is preparing to continue to impose the anti-social austerity agenda that has proven to be so disastrous for the working conditions of public sector employees and consequently, for the delivery of public services. This is anathema to the workers who are preparing to step up their struggle for their rights.

Workers' Forum fully supports the fight of the public sector workers for wages and working conditions that they deem adequate to live a decent life, to be able to keep and attract public sector employees and to deliver services in a dignified and humane manner. This struggle is being waged directly in the field of public opinion and Workers' Forum is placing its pages at its disposal. In this issue, we are publishing an interview with Jeff Begley, President of the Federation of Health and Social Services (FSSS-CSN), which has approximately 110,000 members, 80 per cent of whom are women.


Workers' Forum: As public sector negotiations begin in Quebec, what are the main concerns of workers in the sector at this time?

Jeff Begley: First, the last reform of former Liberal government Health and Social Services Minister Gaétan Barrette has taken its toll and will continue to do so for a long time to come.[1] The creation of mega-institutions has hurt services as well as the network, and the deterioration of services is having a major impact on the people delivering services, who are our members. The problem of health and safety, of issues of mental health, has skyrocketed since the beginning of the reform. It is causing serious problems within all the conditions existing in the system.

For example, since the beginning of the reform, salary-insurance claims for sick leave have increased by 25 per cent. That's huge! Over the past year the claims have not decreased. We don't have the numbers yet for the year, but the claims are continuing. This is very disturbing. It not only costs a fortune in terms of money, but also in terms of the huge human cost on the health of our workers. It's a revolving wheel. The more the conditions deteriorate, the more our members fall ill.

Things need to change significantly during the upcoming negotiation, and quickly, otherwise the situation will only further erode.

The labour shortage is an added factor because it exists in health as it does elsewhere, which is new in terms of the health care sector. Ten years ago, Human Resources managers had a file full of resumés that they had not responded to and now they're not able to find people.

And, of course, ever since the last negotiation, our members are under the impression that the last time they won the negotiation was in 1999. That means that for 20 years now our conditions have been worsening.

These are the main factors causing the disarray amongst our members, in addition to the wage issue. It's crucial that with the next negotiation, our members are able to say they have achieved a substantial improvement in their living and working conditions.

WF: What's the link between the Barrette reform and the problems you have just mentioned?

JB: Here's an example. Previously, for instance, in a Residential and Long-Term Care Centre (CHSLD), when there was a problem at the level of attendants, when we needed more of them for example, we had a Board of Directors responsible for 400-500 residents, and maybe for 100-120-130 employees, and in the case of very large CHSLDs, the number of employees could reach about 400. There was a Board of Directors, which met every month to address the problems of the CHSLD, which could foresee that certain problems may arise, whether related to food services, attendants, nurses, or management. There was pressure on the Board to deal with these problems before they became too big or too serious, to ensure the well-being of employees and patients.

Now the CHSLD, along with all the other CHSLDs in the region, the local health care community service centres (CLSCs) as well as the youth centres, the rehabilitation centres for the intellectually handicapped and the hospitals have all been somewhat merged into a mega-institution. Within such conditions, you're lucky if you have 10 minutes a year to talk about a problem in a CHSLD.

In addition, employers are completely lost. If we ask one of our members who their boss is, in many cases if you're not working at the establishment's head office, you never see him or her. We call a number and hope that the message was received. The problem is even bigger in the regions, where the distances between the establishment's components and head office are even larger. It's a serious problem, both for the employee and for the union. The union is faced with the distress of the person not receiving the services needed, not knowing how to address that need. This has a very negative impact on the public and on employees. This problem exists everywhere in Quebec, in the major centres and in the regions. We undertook a tour across Quebec and the situation exists everywhere, irrespective of the service. Accountability has been shifted so far away from where the service is provided that it has created a crisis of accountability within the system, a general disarray. Everyone is paying for it.

WF: What about the issue of wages?

JB: Wages have deteriorated significantly over the years. The cost of living has greatly exceeded our wages over the last 20 years. That's why we have tabled a demand for a fixed wage increase amount for the first year of the contract. Although the amount is significant for people who are better paid, it is even more significant for low earners. We are asking for a fixed increase of $ 3 per hour in the first year, for all our members. Three dollars the first year on average represents a little more than a 9 per cent increase, but for low wage earners it represents something like 20 per cent.

WF: How do you envisage the upcoming period as negotiations begin?

JB: We undertook a tour of our members in order to work out our demands. Now that we have tabled them, we are embarking on another tour to have them take root and discuss what's required to push them forward.

Expectations are very high among our members. The government has announced that it will offer us only the equivalent of the cost of living, and a little more for patient attendants and the lowest paid teachers. We hope that this is just posturing at the beginning of negotiations, to position itself in relation to public opinion and that at the bargaining table the government will become serious. Otherwise, if the government really wants to limit us to inflation, we will tell our members that we need to mobilize ourselves more than we have done in recent years.

In our opinion, if the Coalition Avenir Québec won the Quebec election in October 2018, it's because people were disgusted with the Barrette reform in health care and with the situation prevailing in the schools. The Legault government needs to recognize that.

Of course if the government puts into practice what it has announced for health care attendants and teachers, it will not be up to the mark with what these employees need. As for the other categories of workers, they will definitely not accept being limited to inflation.

In addition, the government has not said a word about the conditions for the delivery of services, about working conditions.

As far as I know, all the unions involved in these negotiations have tabled their demands. We expect a response from the government before the holidays.

It is certain that a very significant move is going to be needed to improve conditions in the public services.


1. The main component of what has been called the Barrette reform, named after former Minister of Health and Social Services Gaetan Barrette, was the adoption in 2015 of Bill 10 by the Liberal government which restructured health services. The legislation created mega-institutions that sometimes cover entire regions, whose boards of directors are essentially appointed by the Minister of Health and Social Services and accountable to the Minister. The law eliminated the intermediate levels of decision-making that existed within the network, thereby further distancing the voices of workers, those who make the system work, which are often criminalized.

(Photo: CSN)

This article was published in

Number 28 - November 27, 2019

Article Link:
Quebec Public Sector Negotiations: Workers Speak Out About Their Concerns and Needs >


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