In the News
Working Conditions in Quebec Daycare Centres
The Challenges Quebec Child Care Workers Face
The following reports were provided by Stéphanie Vachon, representative of the Early Childhood Centres (ECC) sector at the Health and Social Services Federation (FSSS-CSN) and Lucie Longchamps, vice-president at the FSSS-CSN during a Zoom organized by the Workers’ Centre in the New Year to discuss the challenges the workers face going into 2022.
The ECC struggle was historic for us, a story of solidarity in all its beauty spanning the entire ECC workers’ fight. The ECC sector is part of educational services for children. Although it is fairly young, long-term work has been carried out for the recognition of the early childhood education profession. We have suffered many cuts in the past under previous governments. Under the Liberals, the sector was ransacked through cuts to subsidies. Our working conditions have also deteriorated over the years.
As a result of the pandemic, the ECC network was turned into an emergency child care service with workers at the forefront already suffering from the network’s under-funding and the erosion of their working conditions. As never before, they experienced the repercussions of those measures and the need to make people aware of how necessary educational services for children are. Parents were forced to telework and realized that they couldn’t do it with a child at home. We found ourselves in the public spotlight. A movement emerged beginning at the base. What’s unique about our network is that only about a third of us are unionized. Although many centres are not unionized, they benefit from the fight waged by the unions. Various unions wage the struggle and the government copies and pastes the conditions won for those not unionized. All the work we do through negotiations impacts the entire early childhood education and care network.
At the beginning of the negotiations, daycare workers were on edge. They felt used and not recognized by the government of the day. They were working in emergency child care without any COVID premiums, without protection at the beginning, in extremely close proximity to the children. Negotiations took place within the context of a visceral need to finally be recognized and heard. We could not have gone through this struggle without going on an unlimited general strike because otherwise, our workers would not have felt that they had done everything in their power to win the fight. To a large extent, the negotiation took place in the public arena. We faced a government that had no qualms about informing the media about the offers it was going to make. There was a lot of disinformation. We had to regularly undo what the government was saying in the media because it was not what was happening at the bargaining table.
Being a government that tries to win public opinion over to its side, it chose to favour certain job titles over others. It said that educators, who represent 85 per cent of our membership, should be paid more, therefore “I’m going to increase wages for educators.” And that as far as the other job categories are concerned, such as administrative assistants and food service managers, “I don’t need them as much.”
In July 2021, most of the wage increases offered by the government were for qualified educators, with a little less going to those not qualified, with a copy and paste of what was given to public sector employees for other job titles. For us it made no sense, as ECCs are small families, we work very closely together in teams and are tightknit. Although the majority are educators, the person in charge of food and the girls in the office are part of the team, we care about them. It was unthinkable for us to thank the government for finally recognizing that educators needed a raise and permit it to disregard the others.
We had to go on strike for several days. The government’s position was to wait, to let us know that even if we went on strike it wouldn’t change anything and that it would wait until the mobilization wore off. However, within the context of the mobilization that I mentioned above, the workers felt a visceral need to be heard, to go out in the street.
For us it was a transparent negotiation, with a lot of consultation with our members. We kept them informed about everything. We consulted with them about what they wanted, on whether they were ready to continue the struggle. With each new offer, the government increased the wages of qualified educators but not the wages of workers in other job titles. The workers argued that everyone deserved an acceptable wage increase, as all job titles in the child care system had suffered the same erosion in working conditions over the past 15 years.
At one point, the government tried to break our mobilization, notably through an administrative measure whereby it increased the wages of qualified educators before negotiations were completed, bypassing the negotiating committee.
Its tactics to break the mobilization and credibility of our bargaining committee did not succeed. The workers remained very united throughout the struggle.
After 3-4 days of an unlimited general strike, the government began to move. We started to have something substantive to be able to move towards a tentative agreement.
As a negotiating committee, we had to accept a differentiated formula, that there was more for qualified educators than for other job titles. But when I look at the difference between the government’s initial offer and the final agreement, I can say that we succeeded in increasing the wages of each designation, negotiating, discussing and arguing so that each got a wage increase higher than what was initially offered. There is still a long way to go but we can be proud of our struggle, of the solidarity shown towards everyone.
In the labour movement, the struggles are never over. One ends and another is already on the horizon and being waged.
The positive thing about this struggle of the ECC workers is the solidarity it demonstrated and that inspired the FSSS and the entire CSN federation with regard to our ability to defend our rights. When you have one or two negotiations where you take a step backwards, where there’s no progress, people wonder what the point of all these struggles is, that “perhaps I would be better off doing something else.” It has given a new impulse to rekindling the flame of trade union work, the flame of defending the rights of our entire confederation and, I dare to hope, even more widely. I say this because it happened twice now that in the media I heard people say: “We will not leave anyone behind.”
This sentence was repeated hundreds of times, by Stéphanie and myself and all her colleagues during the negotiations. It was what fueled this negotiation, that we would never leave anyone behind. And now, that sentence has made it in the media in Quebec.
In 2022, there are many challenges for the FSSS. I always work in complicity and in collaboration with Stéphanie. One of the federation’s great positive points is that we work as a team, transparently, each in collaboration with the other, so that as few things as possible are dropped.
On the horizon already is the entire negotiation of the paramedics, who provide ambulance services in Quebec, the negotiations with Héma Québec, where the workers have been looking for a collective agreement for 33 months, and the residences for the elderly, which I am also responsible for at the federation. We have many health care hats that go beyond hospitals.
So there are many challenges in 2022, and one word that links all these sectors along with the ECC is recognition: of what we do, of who we are and of what we are worth.
Recognition in Quebec has been greatly eroded for workers over the past years, and I think that the word can no longer be ignored, one can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist.
It is a must in many negotiations, like it was for the ECCs during the last-chance negotiations. It was said over and over that if something wasn’t done, the ECC would crumble and fall. The paramedic system is not that far from that stage and there must be recognition for them as well as wages consistent with what they are worth.
We are going to be very active in 2022, that’s for sure!
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 1, 2022. Translated from the original French by Workers’ Forum.)