After a meeting with various union leaders on Sunday, Quebec Premier François Legault said he wants to wrap up union negotiations within two to three weeks without reviewing his offer to some 550,000 public sector employees of Quebec.
At a press conference in Montreal, Legault insisted that the offers on the table are already “reasonable” and “generous” in the context of the pandemic and the province’s $13-billion deficit.
The premier added that Quebecers are already the highest taxed population in North America and the province can’t increase taxes or public spending.
He added that the unions can refuse the provincial government’s offer for as long as they want, “but there will be no more money offered,” Legault said.
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In the government’s last offer, presented on March 31, one year after the collective agreements expired, Quebec maintained its proposal of a five per cent spending increase to public sectors over three years, with a possible increase of one per cent depending on inflation.
Quebec also said the province would be increasing wages in the education and health sectors — by 18 per cent for new teachers and by 23 per cent for caregivers in Quebec’s long-term care homes (CHSLDs).
The Quebec government is also proposing 14,000 new full-time positions in the healthcare network to ease the workload burden on nurses.
“What people realized during the pandemic is that without public service, nothing works in Quebec,” said Caroline Senneville, vice-president of the Confédération des Unions Nationaux (CSN), the province’s second-largest trade union.
“Beyond the ‘thanks’ (workers get) in press conferences, people have to feel that they are appreciated, otherwise they will look (to work) elsewhere,” Senneville said. “That has already started.”
The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), a labour organization that represents 76,000 healthcare workers, was the first to reach a partial agreement with the government on the working conditions of its nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists and more.
“If there is one thing on which we agree with the government today, it is certainly that time is running out,” said FIQ president Nancy Bédard.
An organization that represents various teachers’ unions, the Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignement (FAE), became the second group to reach a partial agreement with the government earlier this week.
The FIQ has however not yet agreed to salary negotiations.
— with files from Alessia Maratta, Global News