Quebec public sector unions say the government is running out of time to reach a deal for new collective agreements and avoid an unlimited general strike in the new year involving hundreds of thousands of workers.
A group of four unions calling itself the “common front” and representing 420,000 public sector workers, including teachers, education support staff and lab technicians, launched a weeklong strike Friday — its third walkout since November.
Robert Comeau, president of APTS, a health union and member of the common front, said that between Dec. 18 and 19 all four unions are holding meetings, during which it will be the “ideal time” to present an agreement in principle to members.
“Otherwise … we see no other solution than to launch an unlimited general strike if we are forced to do so.”
Friday’s walkout came after the common front — and other unions negotiating separately with the province — rejected the government’s most recent contract offer, which included a salary increase of 12.7 per cent over five years.
Aside from the common front, around 66,000 teachers who are members of the FAE union have been on an unlimited strike since Nov. 23. Meanwhile, the FIQ, representing 80,000 nurses and other health-care workers, will begin a four-day strike on Monday.
On Friday, Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel said the labour conflict has entered a “crucial moment,” adding that she received a counter-proposal from the four common front unions. All sides have said they want a deal by the end of the year.
Talks were to resume Friday afternoon, and mediators are scheduled to take part in other discussions over the weekend aimed at settling issues outside of salaries and pensions.
Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday he’s willing to offer workers more money but wants unions to make concessions on management issues, such as the transfer of nurses between health facilities.
The common front unions said there is movement on the length of a potential deal; they have sought a three-year contract while the government has consistently tabled five-year agreements.
“We are ready to open on a collective agreement of more than three years, but with an indexation clause and salary catch-up,” said François Enault, vice-president of common front member CSN.
Before the latest counter-offer, which has not been made public, the common front sought a three-year deal with annual increases tied to the inflation rate: two percentage points above inflation in the first year or $100 per week, whichever is more beneficial, followed by three points higher in the second year and four points higher in the third.