Quebec clashes with unions as contract negotiations begin

Click to play video: 'Despite backlash from public sector workers Quebec insists salary offer is ‘fair’'
Despite backlash from public sector workers Quebec insists salary offer is ‘fair’
WATCH: Teachers and health care professionals are among 600,000 sector workers denouncing a new contract offer from the government on Thursday. Quebec's latest negotiations with the major unions are off to a rocky start. With the province insisting the salary increase they're putting on the table is fair. As Global's Dan Spector reports, workers feel the offer is more of an insult – Dec 15, 2022

Teachers and health-care professionals are among 600,000 public sector workers denouncing a new contract offer from the Quebec government.

Quebec’s latest negotiations with the major unions are off to a rocky start, with the province saying the salary increase it’s putting on the table is fair and the workers responding that it’s an insult. Quebec has offered a nine per cent salary increase over five years, which workers say just won’t be enough to deal with inflation.

“Major investments made by the government, particularly in the health and education networks, have not had the expected effects,” said Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel, making the jarring observation that things have not improved on the ground in recent years.

Lebel recognized that she started the latest round of contract negotiations with public sector workers with a bang.

“I know I’m shaking the tree here a little bit,” she told Global News in an interview.

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Alongside the health and education ministers, Lebel wondered aloud why points negotiated in the last agreement have not been implemented.

She wants a major part of the talks to focus on how work is organized.

“Why are we losing our teachers within five years? We have to answer these questions together,” she said. “The money is not always the key to or the key answer to this problem.”

The coalition of unions begs to differ.

“It’s all about the kind of money that they want to give us,” said CSQ president Eric Gingras.

Workers feel Quebec is unfairly trying to blame them for deficiencies in the health and education sectors, and that to keep teachers and nurses interested in working for the public system the government needs to make them feel wanted by showing them the money.

“They gave us a smaller number,” said Gingras “It’s below inflation.”

Lebel said she thinks the offer is fair, and that implementing the right working conditions in the field is more important than a bigger raise.

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“We’re not even able to spend all that money because there was not enough people to take that money,” she said.

The unions feel Quebecers will be on their side as this process unfolds, because people saw how public sector workers stepped up during the worst of the pandemic.

“They were in hospitals, they were in schools and they saw what’s going on, what nurses, what teachers, what support staff was doing,” Gingras said.

The government says it wants to work with the unions to find the right balance. The treasury board president is not surprised by the frosty reception to her first offer.

“I would have been very surprised if they would have agreed from the get-go,” she said.

Lebel says her team will contact the unions to plan a new round of talks as soon as possible.

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