No salary hikes for Quebec’s public sector workers

QUEBEC CITY – Quebec’s main bean counter is asking 540 000 public sector workers to tighten their belts.

Treasury Board President Martin Coiteux told employees on Monday he wants to achieve a zero deficit in 2015-2016.

He says he won’t be able to raise salaries for the next two years.

“We’re proposing a zero increase, and for the last three years of the collective agreement, we’re proposing one per cent,” Coiteux said.

This clashes dramatically with what unions want: a 4.5% salary hike for the next three years.

READ MORE: Tensions escalate between Quebec government and municipalities

Coiteux argues salaries account for 60% of government spending.

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He also announced he wants to push back the age of retirement to 62, calculate retirement income based on the eight most lucrative years of a worker’s career instead of five, and increase the penalty for early retirement from four to 7.2%.

“For the retirement benefits what we’re proposing is to assure its long-term sustainability and the affordability of its cost to both the employees and the government,” said Coiteux.

READ MORE: Unions challenge Quebec pension reform in court

Unions called the minister a “bad Santa” and say their members feel despised and undervalued.

They say the climate is worse than in the 1990s when Lucien Bouchard ordered massive layoffs in the healthcare system.

At least then pensions were raised by 6%, argued Régine Laurent, president of the nurses’ union.

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Another coalition of unions, the Common Front, says there is currently a canyon separating parties at the table.

READ MORE: Quebec passes controversial pension reform bill

“This government obviously misses the sound of pots banging,” said SISP spokesperson Louise Chabot, referring to the 2012 student demonstrations.

Unions promised to make as much noise in 2015.

Coiteux will table more specific proposals in the days to come.

He is rumoured to want to increase student-teacher ratios in grade four, five and six, as well as high school to save $200 million.

He is also rumoured to want to cut the number of public sector sick days, from 12 to seven.

Collective agreements expire March 31, 2015.

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