Quebec strike: 80,000 nurses join picket line in another provincial walkout

Click to play video: 'No end in sight for Quebec teachers strike'
No end in sight for Quebec teachers strike
WATCH: Teachers were back on the picket lines Monday, calling on the Quebec government to pick up the pace in their negotiations with public sector unions. Teachers with the Common Front are now on their fourth day of a seven-day strike. While the FAE teachers union announced it will be continuing its indefinite strike. Global's Franca Mignacca reports. – Dec 11, 2023

Tens of thousands of nurses and other health-care professionals are off the job Monday in Quebec as a deal with public sector workers remains off the table.

The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec or FIQ, which represents 80,000 nurses, licensed practical nurses and respiratory therapists, is holding a four-day strike. Essential services like emergency rooms remain open by law, but Quebecers can expect delays in health-care institutions.

The health-care workers’ walkout overlaps with other strikes, meaning more than 550,000 people will be on picket lines across the province this week.

“This is the last chance for the health-care system. This is why we are involved,” said Sacha Nelson, a respiratory therapist and vice-president of the FIQ union at the CHUM, a French-language hospital network in Montreal.

“If this is not a good negotiation and people don’t come back, I’m not sure the sector will survive another negotiation session.”

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The unions rejected the province’s latest contract proposal made last week, which raised a base offer pay increase to 12.7 per cent over a five-year period. They say it doesn’t keep pace with inflation.

Click to play video: 'Quebec nurses, health-care workers begin 4-day walkout'
Quebec nurses, health-care workers begin 4-day walkout

The FIQ has issued a counteroffer, asking for a 20 per cent salary increase over four years. Among the sticking points is a better work-life balance, but the government also wants more “flexibility” in certain areas, such as scheduling.

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Julie Bouchard, president of the FIQ, said it’s still possible for a deal to be reached by the new year — but only if talks quickly progress.

“We can’t just be in intensive in intense negotiations,” she said Monday. “We must be in a blitz.”

Meanwhile, the Front Commun — a coalition of four unions representing 420,000 public sector workers in the education, social services and health sectors — is also on a week-long walkout that began last Friday. On Sunday, representatives said they are expected to update members beginning in a week. If an agreement isn’t in place, they could launch an unlimited strike after the holidays.

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Some 66,000 teachers who are members of the Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignement have been off the job since Nov. 23. The unlimited strike has closed around 800 public schools across the province.

At the bargaining table, teachers say they have softened their position on the assignment of classes. FAE president Mélanie Hubert says teachers are ready to work with the province to ensure that most of them are assigned classes in June rather than in August. The government says it wants to avoid a perennial problem that occurs every year in late August, when school boards scramble to find teachers as the school year begins.

But Hubert said the union concessions weren’t good enough for the government, adding that the FAE doesn’t plan to make any more offers.

“We told the government, in our opinion, it is no longer the time to make further concessions,” she said on Monday.

Steelworkers donate $100k

The Syndicat des Métallos, a large private-sector union representing steelworkers, announced it was making a $100,000 donation to help striking workers.

The donation will be made in the form of grocery gift cards “to support families most affected as the holiday season approaches,” the union said Monday. They will be given to workers on picket lines across the province.

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The steelworkers’ union is associated with the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), which is one of the labour federations that is part of the Front Commun.

It is also one of the private-sector unions that spoke out in support of public-sector workers, saying they were fighting for better public services and to help cope with inflation.

— with files from Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press

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