Public Sector Workers' Serious Concerns About Ministerial Order from the Quebec Government

Public sector workers are expressing serious concerns about the content of Ministerial Order 2020-04 published on March 15 by Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Danielle McCann, which talks about suspending clauses of their collective agreements. This ministerial order was published in accordance with the decree issued by the Government of Quebec, on March 13, declaring a state of health emergency throughout Quebec and granting exceptional powers to its Minister of Health, as described in the section 123 of the Public Health Act.

Central to the ministerial order is the issue of providing childcare services to workers who are deemed to be essential. The order quotes the decree which provides that "childcare services must continue to be organized and provided for a child if one of the child’s parents is employed by or exercises a profession in the health and social services network, including in private professional practice, community pharmacies and pre-hospital emergency services, or is a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, correctional services officer or special constable." Since the publication of the order, the list of workers deemed essential, that is posted on the government website dedicated to information on COVID-19, has grown.

While public sector workers are fully mobilized to contain the disease, they have expressed serious concerns over the order which says that "Notwithstanding  the  provisions of the collective  agreements that apply to public service employees, a person  may be reassigned to another function or  another place, as needed, even if the person’s level of employment is not respected."

The order further specifies that the labour contracts between the school boards and all unions are amended to allow that the work schedules prescribed in collective agreements no longer have to be respected, "to allow the employer to meet needs" and that "the articles on the granting of remuneration or compensation that is additional to the remuneration or compensation paid for normal hours and overtime when services must be maintained, in particular by reason of a force majeure, do not apply."

According to the unions, there was no consultation with them before declaring that the rules governing part of the performance and remuneration of their duties were changed. They learned about it by reading the decree.

The Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), which represents nearly 200,000 workers, the majority of whom work in the public sector, immediately warned the Legault government that the need "to respond quickly to the crisis to ensure the health and safety of the population, must not be done at the expense of the basic rights of the personnel. We reiterate that it is extremely important to ensure the mobilization and commitment of workers to maintain essential services and ensure an effective fight against the pandemic. We therefore urge the Legault government to be cautious and to avoid adopting extreme measures, without consultation, which could have the opposite effect."

The National Union of Employees of the Montreal School Board (SNEE-CSN) also spoke out. The organization represents housekeeping, maintenance, transportation and cafeteria staff of the Montreal School Board. Those are the workers who work daily to clean and maintain schools and who are currently doing a tremendous amount of work to disinfect every room in every school to make them safe for the return of students and education staff. The SNEE says that it is with pride that all of its members respond as one to their duties as citizens. It also notes that "The use of these measures [to suspend collective agreements] can only be done as a last resort and after having done everything possible to avoid it. This is not a management tool to facilitate the work of our managers, but rather an exceptional measure that cannot be used lightly. "

The views of public sector workers must be respected. They are not talking about things up in the air when they speak out against decrees which impose conditions with which the workers do not agree, and which become instruments of neo-liberal management in the hands of the authorities. This is how so-called exceptional conditions become the norm, such as compulsory overtime among nurses. The argument of the Government of Quebec, that it already has exceptional powers under the law and that it is just adopting the regulations that implement these powers, is not acceptable. 

The opinion and voice of workers, their say in the conditions under which their services are delivered in emergency situations is not only a question of right but a question of ensuring the success of emergency measures. Public sector workers have been maintaining social programs and public services for more than 30 years against all odds in the face of the anti-social offensive of the rich and their governments. Today it is they who are on the front lines of the defence of public services and the population in this pandemic. Their voices, expressed in their organizations, cannot be ignored. The urgency of the situation makes it essential that the experience and the solutions that are proposed by frontline workers be respected and implemented.

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 9 - March 21, 2020

Article Link:
Public Sector Workers' Serious Concerns About Ministerial Order from the Quebec Government - Geneviève Royer


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