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Striking SAQ employees want better insurance, training

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Some 5,000 Quebec liquor corporation workers walked off the job on Wednesday for a planned two-day strike amid contract negotiations with their employer.

Their union — the Syndicat des employé(e)s de magasins et de bureaux de la SAQ — confirmed at midnight on Facebook it was launching the strike after a lack of progress at the negotiating table.

It says the two strike days are the first to be used under the union's 15-day strike mandate.

The union said about 70 per cent of its members are part-time or on call, and it is calling on the Société des alcools du Québec, a Crown corporation, to create more full-time positions and give employees access to insurance and training.

Their precarious status means "that from one two-week period to another, (employees) don't know if there will be enough hours to pay for groceries," said Caroline Senneville, who is the president of the CSN union group that includes the liquor workers' union.

Senneville said these workers don't have access to group insurance benefits, and often have to work with a precarious status for five to 10 years.

"There are enough hours to consolidate and to create interesting jobs," Senneville said.

The SAQ said negotiations are ongoing. "We remain prepared to negotiate with their representatives at any time. A next day of negotiations is also planned for Monday April 29," the company said in a press release, adding "until this week, the climate at the negotiating table was good.”

Management said its goal from the beginning has been to reach a deal that satisfies both parties.

Lisa Courtemanche, president of the liquor workers' union, said negotiations had been progressing, "up until we were faced with a categorical no." The union says wages have not yet been addressed during negotiations.

Under the current contract, cashiers and salespeople are paid $21.50 per hour to start, which rises to $28.15 at the top pay tier.

The management of the Crown corporation said some liquor stores will remain open during the strike but added Wednesday that it was opening fewer outlets than expected due to planning meetings that coincided with the strike.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2024.

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