There was a dramatic twist early Tuesday morning when key officials with the union representing Quebec nurses rejected a tentative deal with the province, just a few hours after it was struck.
But Premier François Legault is not giving up. He vowed to find the means required to lighten the workload of nurses and create more full-time positions in the field.
The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ), which represents 76,000 nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists and other health-care professionals, still hopes to resume negotiations in the coming days with the province’s Treasury Board.
The agreement-in-principle was announced Monday by Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel and Nancy Bédard, president of the FIQ.
The intense negotiations between the FIQ and the Quebec government — which had lasted for several days — focused on workload, the stability of the health-care teams and the creation of full-time positions to avoid transferring staff.
“We currently want, in the negotiations, to find all possible means to lighten the workload, among others, of nurses,” said Legault.
“It is very, very clear that it is the number one objective.”
Legault discussed the negotiations with nurses during an update on the COVID-19 pandemic on his own accord, without being prompted by questions about the rejected deal.
“The priority is: how we can add nurses? Obviously, we have to find them,” he said.
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In Quebec, only half of the available nurses work full-time.
“What we are also trying to do is to find all kinds of means, to provide incentives, including financial incentives, so that more nurses choose to work full time,” Legault said.
Quebec particularly wants to stabilize the health-care teams in long-term care homes, given the extent of the crisis that was experienced in CHSLDs during the first wave of the pandemic.
The FIQ also wanted to address the issue of nurse-patient ratios — which has been the subject of 16 pilot projects — in order to reduce nurses’ workload while improving the quality of care.
The other major sticking point for the FIQ is mandatory overtime. But the resolution of this problem means more jobs need to be filled.
The tentative agreement only touched on working conditions in the health-care sector.
It didn’t tackle other problems facing nurses, including wages, pension, work-life balance and regional disparities. Cross-sectoral issues are negotiated in alliance between the FIQ and the Alliance of Professional and Technical Personnel in Health and Social Services (APTS).
As required by its operating rules, once the agreement-in-principle was reached, it had to be presented to an intermediary body of the FIQ before being submitted to the members.
The FIQ’s national council then rejected the tentative deal, deeming it insufficient.