Firm Opposition to Rule by Decree

Quebec Workers' Demands for Solutions to the Crisis in Health Care

While health care workers in Quebec are insisting their demands be met to deal with the health care crisis which is aggravated in the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, government executives are attempting to strengthen rule by decree to deprive workers of any say over their working conditions and the direction of their sector and of the economy. This is part of the state restructuring that has been going on for over 30 years and is being intensified, using the pandemic as a pretext, to impose the will of narrow private interests.

Already, health and social service workers are subject to ministerial orders that give the government and employers the power to declare their existing collective agreements null and void and to unilaterally change working conditions, under the pretext of facing the public health emergency. These orders have been used many times since they were issued in March 2020 and they have created havoc in workers' lives, leading to resignations and workers becoming sick and unable to work because of their untenable conditions.

At this time, the close to 550,000 Quebec public sector workers are trying to renew their collective agreements. This includes about 260,000 workers in health and social services. All collective agreements in the public sector expired on March 31, 2020. Negotiations began a year and a half ago and only one tentative agreement has been reached so far.

Health care workers report that the Quebec government is demanding that unions agree that instead of having negotiated and enforceable working conditions that allow workers to do their jobs safely and in a manner that permits them to provide quality care, they should endorse some "recommendations" to be made to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, which will then issue ministerial directives over which workers and their unions have no control.

An example is the effort of the Quebec Health Federation (FSQ-CSQ) to renew the collective agreements of its members. The FSQ-CSQ represents 5,000 nurses, licensed practical nurses and respiratory therapists in the Montreal, Laval, Gaspésie and Northeastern Quebec regions. Among the issues that government negotiators propose be handled through ministerial directives are staff-to-patient ratios and private hiring agencies, two of the main issues of concern for workers in the sector. Important issues on which workers are fighting to assert their needs and their rights are to be declared out of their reach.

The government's January 21 comprehensive settlement offer was unanimously rejected by FSQ-CSQ's Federal Council on February 7. The council is comprised of delegates from all member unions.

One of the main reasons for the rejection of the offer is the firm opposition to rule by decree and the demand that the Quebec government must meet the demands set by workers to immediately improve working conditions and the delivery of services, which will contribute to alleviating the crisis.

Among such demands are the immediate improvement of wages, which have been either frozen or barely maintained at cost of living adjustments for over 15 years, making it impossible to retain and attract workers in the sector; the elimination of mandatory overtime which is rampant and creating chaos in the lives of workers, wrecking their health and family life and the services they provide; the general improvement of working conditions with a humane work load, stable teams and stable schedules; the establishment of staff-to-patient ratios which enable workers to provide quality service to the people; the reduction of the use of private hiring agencies which are extremely costly to the public health care system and the investment of those monies in the public system to improve the conditions in line with the demands of the workers.

Workers are expressing the strong conviction that their decisive say in the determination of working conditions is key to humanizing their conditions and the delivery of the services. They have waged several mass actions to oppose the ministerial orders and government dictate in negotiations and are determined to have their demands met. 

(Photos: FIQ, F. Couto)

This article was published in

Volume 8 - February 19, 2021 - No. 8

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