Quebec Public Sector
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.
As public sector negotiations begin in Quebec, what are the main
concerns of workers in the sector at this time?
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. 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
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
the link between the Barrette reform and the problems you have just
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.
about the issue of 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?
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
In addition, the government has not said a word
about the conditions for the delivery of services, about working
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.
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.
This article was published in
Number 28 - November 27, 2019
Quebec Public Sector
Negotiations: Workers Speak Out About Their Concerns and Needs >