Quebec lawyers, notaries' union meets with government for last-minute bargaining session

The union representing government lawyers and notaries is meeting with the government at this hour, just moments before the Couillard government was set to table back-to-work legislation.

About 1,100 government legal professionals have been on strike since October

Quebec's legal professionals, including lawyers and notaries, protest outside the National Assembly in Quebec City on Monday. (CBC)

A last-ditch effort is underway to reach a negotiated settlement between the Quebec government and its unionized lawyers and notaries, who have been on strike for more than four months.

The two sides opened another bargaining session late Monday afternoon, just moments before the Couillard government tabled back-to-work legislation.

Unless a deal is reached, the bill will come up for a vote on Tuesday, forcing an end to the strike.

"It takes two to tango," said Treasury Board President Pierre Moreau, adding that the government has always wanted a negotiated settlement.

"If there is a real intention on their part to negotiate then it is possible. It's the first option as far as the government is concerned. That's why we are using this [time] until tomorrow afternoon for a negotiation."

The 1,100 legal professionals, represented by the union Les avocats et notaires de l'État québécois (LANEQ), have been on strike since October. They have been without a collective agreement for a year and a half.

Union president Jean Denis said the government's offer to bargain under the tight deadline is in bad faith.

"They put a gun to our temple because Mr. Moreau said to us, 'You have 24 hours to reach an agreement because, after that, you will have a special law,'" Denis said.

Strike affecting National Assembly work

Moreau said action is needed urgently because the strike is starting to have an impact on services, such as processing compensation claims to the SAAQ (Quebec's automobile insurance board) and legislative work at the National Assembly.

The province, which has already settled with Quebec's 450,000 civil servants, said it has offered government lawyers the same salary as its Crown prosecutors. The union disputes that claim.

The lawyers also want to negotiate a special status within the civil service. The province said it wants to reach a settlement before having those discussions.

Quebec Treasury Board president Pierre Moreau said he felt the province had to table back-to-work legislation after making five offers to union representatives. (Radio-Canada)

Opposition upset with delays

Nicole Léger, Treasury Board critic for the Parti Québécois, said the Couillard government is acting in a "disrespectful and irresponsible" way, and that passing legislation forcing the lawyers back to work will "break the trust" between both parties.

Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legualt said the situation has dragged on too long and the premier should be involved in settling the negotiations, as opposed to leaving them to Moreau. 

"I think we see a total lack of leadership from Mr. Couillard. For four months, he has refused to meet with union representatives. It doesn't make sense because it's an important part of the government," Legault said.

The Quebec Bar issued a statement Friday calling for mediation.

"The labour dispute has been going on for four and a half months: it's enough," said chair of the Quebec Bar Claudia P. Prémont.

"The parties must agree. We are deeply convinced that a neutral and independent mediator will facilitate the achievement of a satisfactory settlement to both parties."

With files from CBC's Ryan Hicks