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Quebec Treasury Board president ready to prune its demands and invites unions to do the same

In a bid to increase the chances of reaching an agreement in the public sector by the end of the year, Quebec has pledged to considerably reduce the number of its sectoral demands made to the unions and is asking them to do the same.

Sectoral demands are those that affect working conditions in sectors such as education and health. They do not concern wages or pensions, which are negotiated at the central table.

In an interview with La Presse Canadienne, Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel, said she was prepared "within the next two weeks" to reduce her sectoral demands to "around five" in order to prioritize the most important and thus increase the chances of reaching an agreement by the end of the year to renew the collective agreements in the public and parapublic sectors.

On the other hand, it is asking the unions - not just the Common Front, but the others as well - to do the same, in the same order of magnitude. Some have submitted around sixty demands. The Treasury Board says the number should be reduced to around five, but the number may vary slightly.

LeBel feels that if the unions and employers each do this, it would be possible to conclude an agreement by the end of the year.

"We would aim for December," she said.

However, she warns that if the unions do not reduce their demands to a significantly lower number, "the bonuses will end." If the unions prioritise them and reduce the number as requested, the bonuses will be maintained until December, when negotiations to renew all the collective agreements, which expired on March 31, will continue.

These bonuses are precious to union members. Some are for nurses, others for psychologists and specialized workers, for example. They can represent several thousand dollars for the workers concerned. They must be renegotiated to meet specific or one-off needs.

 A number of these bonuses were due to expire on March 31. The government extended them on two occasions, until Sept. 30. Then, on Monday, it announced that it would extend them until mid-October. LeBel pointed out that the bonuses alone are worth $600 million.

 LeBel maintains that the unions "have not made any significant move" to date to ease and facilitate these long negotiations.

"I am going to set an example by reducing the employers' demands," she said, "by cleaning up, by pruning."

She hastens to add that she expects the union counterpart to make a similar gesture.

"If we manage to reduce the objectives of the employers' and unions' demands to the essentials, then we have a real chance for December. Because if I move and they don't, we'll be in for months," she said.

The unions' demands were submitted last autumn, and the government submitted its demands in December.

Meanwhile, the Common Front unions are continuing to seek strike mandates from their members.

Meetings are planned until mid-October.

The minister said that she is not calling this right to strike into question, but she hopes it will not come to that.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 26, 2023. Top Stories

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