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Election Features

Anybody but the ADQ: unions
Paddy Moore, CBC News Online | March 26
With notes from Susan Bell

The Action Démocratique du Québec's vision of labour in the province has raised the ire of Quebec's two largest unions, who are calling on their members to vote for anybody but "équipe Dumont".

Labour conflicts are nothing new to Quebecers, and during an election campaign it's no surprise that labour relations come to the forefront, this being the country's most unionized province.

How that will finally play out at the polls is up for grabs. But it is clear the ADQ is not courting the labour vote.

"The ADQ! Our program is to block them," says René Roy, the Quebec Federation of Labour's general secretary. He claims the ADQ's policies would destroy the province's labour relations.

He likens the ADQ approach to former Ontario premier Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revolution."

ADQ plans

The ADQ wants to reform Section 45 of the labour code. As it stands now, if a company splits off into two or more entities, union accreditation follows the workers. "They cannot just do that to get rid of a union in Quebec. That is an important part of the code," says Roy.

"When Harris first came in [to power] in Ontario, that's the first thing he did was to destroy that article. So the level of union membership went from 38 to 33 per cent really rapidly."

The ADQ has a number of other proposals that aren't going over well with labour.

Dumont wants to reduce the province's "immoderate taste for intervention" in the field of job creation and business subsidies. This, according to the ADQ, would eliminate the public service jobs that administrate the subsidies and allow them to pass on savings in the form of tax reductions for business.

As well, the ADQ wants an increased role for the private sector in health care. The platform says that more private sector services would be "added to those provided by the public sector." While it says nothing about reducing public sector jobs, it would create a second tier of delivery that would likely be off limits to the province's unions.

The claim the ADQ will weaken the labour movement is false, according to Dumont. Yet, he admits that teachers and nurses are turning away from the his party because they think their jobs will be eliminated.

"They are wondering [whether], with an ADQ government, they would lose their job security, and I think we have to make clear what we want to do," Dumont says. Professions deemed useful won't be touched, says Dumont, but he isn't backing down on his promise that an ADQ government would make cuts in Quebec's public service.

"What we are presenting represents a certain level of change in mentality. I think we need it and an electoral campaign is a perfect moment to discuss it and talk about our future and how we want to pay down our debt and create conditions favourable to employment," says Dumont in defence of his platform.

But the ADQ is not the only party looking to make it easier to contract out some services to the private sector.

Speaking on the campaign trail at Ste. Justine's Hospital in Montreal, Liberal leader Jean Charest said contracting out makes sense in some instances.

He says public-private partnerships could work well in the health sector for administration, laundry and cafeteria services.

PQ: not necessarily labour's friend

The Parti Québécois has no plans to get rid of job security for the public sector, nor to make any more changes to the labour code.

But that won't necessarily translate into the PQ's garnering the labour vote.

Just ask many of Quebec's nurses. They have some fences to mend with the PQ. The nurses illegally walked off the job for 23 days in the summer of 1999, for which they were heavily fined.

The nurses were protesting against low wages and an increased workload they say was endangering patient care.

And now on the pickets in downtown Montreal, some CEGEP teachers walk the line, awaiting a deal with the PQ government. They're educators like Chantal Birom, who wears a black cardboard hat that looks like a heavy weight. "This weight represents 173 extra hours," says Birom, obviously disgruntled with an increased workload under the PQ.

Birom says voting options for labour supporters in Quebec are pretty slim. "At this point none. I don't think there's anything. The union has decided not to take any position because nobody has come up with anything that we find interesting," she says.

What the PQ is promising to do is to help workers reconcile work and family life. PQ leader Bernard Landry says the province needs to innovate and find ways to help families who want children, and to have all the children they want.

The PQ is proposing a four-day work week for parents of pre-teen children. Business says the move would cost $100 million a year. For the unions, it's a matter for the negotiating table.

How union membership ultimately reacts remains to be seen, but for the moment the provinces two largest labour unions, the QFL and CSN are advising their members to vote for anyone but the ADQ.

The Liberals, as long as they remain out of labour's line of fire, could conceivably attract some labour voters from the PQ, which might be suffering the effects of being a ruling party and having had actual contracts to negotiate with the province's unions.

On the other hand, the PQ government has hired thousands of civil servants in the last five years.

Related Stories:

AUDIO: Labour Platforms: Two of the province's largest labour unions have come out swinging against Mario Dumont and his Action Démocratique party. The unions say the ADQ would be disastrous for labour relations in Quebec. Susan Bell brings us this look at the labour platforms of the three main parties.
[Runs 6:04] March 17

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