MONTREAL -- Quebec's largest union says it is indignant and angry at the "serious negligence" it says led to the deaths of 31 residents at a seniors' residence on Montreal's West Island, and it blames "years of austerity" on the part of previous Quebec governments for causing the crisis.

“We're going to call a spade a spade," said Daniel Boyer, president of the Federation des travailleurs du Quebec (FTQ), in a statement Sunday. "We have been denouncing the lack of resources in public services, in the health network, in CHSLDs (Quebec's government-run seniors residences) and residences for the elderly, especially in the private sector, for years.

"We have said repeatedly that one day we are going to hit a wall. Well, we are there and it makes me sick."

"All of this is also the result of the years of austerity of the previous government and the disengagement of the state with regard to the elderly," Boyer added.

On Sunday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that 31 residents of Maison Herron, a privately run long-term residence in Dorval, had died; at least five of them died of COVID-19. Legault announced that police and public health authorities are investigating the deaths.

“It has not been on a whim that we have long been demanding adequate funding for public services," said Boyer, whose union represents some 600,000 Quebec workers. "The poor working conditions and insufficient wages have made it practically impossible to attract and keep new staff."

Boyer said the FTQ welcomes Legault's pledge to take whatever steps are necessary to improve the situation in the province's seniors' residences, but that "it will take more than words."

"The boots will have to follow the lips. It is the least we can do for our seniors, for the people of Quebec."