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Quebec's public sector negotiations grind on as unions criticize lack of urgency

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While Quebec Premier Francois Legault is calling for "flexibility" on working conditions in the public sector, unions are denouncing the government's lack of urgency to reach an agreement.

Inter-union group the Common Front, which brings together the CSN, the CSQ, the APTS and the FTQ, and consists of some 420,000 workers, is off the job for a seven-day strike that will last until Dec. 14. The union group said it's ready to launch an indefinite general strike if there is no agreement with the government by the end of the year.

The four members of the Common Front plan to meet again on Dec. 18 and 19 to take stock of how negotiations are progressing.

"We, the unions, are ready to negotiate 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Dec. 19 to have an agreement in principle," Maxime Ste-Marie, president of the Provincial Council of Social Affairs (CPAS) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). "After that, we will take the means necessary to make ourselves heard, but certainly after the holidays, we will have to evaluate everything... If we have to go on an unlimited general strike after the holidays, we'll do it."

Mediators were on hand at certain sectoral tables at the end of the week, but that's not enough, according to the Common Front.

Sectoral tables are where working conditions other than salaries and the pension plan are negotiated, in sectors like education and health. The parties discuss, for example, personnel movements and the organization of work.

On Wednesday, Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel tabled a new salary offer of 12.7 per cent over five years to all state employees, but the unions found it insufficient.

On Thursday, Legault said he was ready to be more generous "monetarily," but demanded more flexibility in how collective agreements are applied.

Sylvie Nelson, president of the Quebec Union of Service Employees, strongly criticized the "flexibility" Legault repeatedly requested on Friday regarding.

"We would have liked employer representatives at the sectoral tables to be flexible and to negotiate on the weekend. They refused to negotiate during the weekend," she said.

Ste-Marie agreed.

"It's a historic strike," he said. "It is the longest strike, seven consecutive days, for a Common Front in the last 50 years. Despite that, there is no sense of urgency at the management level at the sectoral negotiation tables. We represent health workers, the majority of the negotiating tables are not negotiating this weekend. It's unacceptable."

OTHER STRIKES

Starting next Monday, health-care union the FIQ will also walk off the job. The union group, which represents 80,000 nurses, practical nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists, will also be on strike until Dec. 14.

These two strikes affecting the health sector will lead to postponed surgeries and other appointments.

These strikes by Common Front and the FIQ come in addition to the unlimited strike by 66,000 teachers in the FAE union, which began on Nov. 23, and has continued since.

- With information from Lia Lévesque. 
- This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 10, 2023.

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