Quebec's public sector to get new government offer following strike days

Quebec is preparing a new offer to public sector workers after a week of rotating strikes, and union heads are hopeful — if a little sceptical.

400,000 public-sector workers in province held rotating strikes after stalled negotiations with government

Quebec teachers have protesting against the government's offer since the beginning of the school year by holding rotating strike days and stopping all non-essential services, such as extracurricular activities. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Quebec is preparing a new offer to public sector workers after a week of rotating strikes across the province.

Treasury Board president Martin Coiteux said on Friday that the government would be modifying its proposals.

Quebec Treasury board president Martin Coiteux responds to reporters questions over striking civil servants Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"Even though there have been walkouts that I find disappointing, work was done at the negotiation table this week, so we're moving forward," he said on Friday in Quebec City. 

Teachers in both the English and French school boards have held strikes days over the past month or so to protest against salary and work conditions they feel are untenable.

They have been without a contract since April 1. The provincial government had previously offered civil servants a two-year salary freeze, followed by a 1 per cent increase per year over three years.

However, civil servants — including thousands of teachers — want 13.5 per cent over three years. 

Main points of contention in the negotiations:

  • Province wants to increase teacher-student ratio.
  • Province wants to eliminate allocated funds toward schools' programs for special-needs children.
  • Province wants to cut 800 resource-teacher and special-education teacher jobs.
  • A salary freeze for two years (the teachers are asking for 13.5 per cent over three years).
  • Cuts to employee pension plans.

Civil servants were infuriated by the government's initial offer, calling it "indecent." Despite that, the government stuck to it for months before Coiteux's revelation Friday that the government had a new proposal.   

"We're approaching the moment where, basically, we think we're able to renew, to update our offer to come to a negotiated settlement," he said.

Yet, he also said the new negotiation would allow the government to stay on track for its goal of a balanced budget in 2015-2016. 

The multi-union Common Front protest movement, comprising about 400,000 civil servants, has been gaining steam this past week, as more than just teachers are coming out to denounce the government's style of negotiating and demand better wages.

​Jacques Létourneau, the president of union-federation CSN, said he sees a ray of hope but he isn't counting his chickens before they hatch.

"It's good news, but obviously we have to see what the government plans to offer," he said, adding that Coiteux's talk hasn't yet translated to anything concrete at the negotiation table. 

​He credited the government's potential new offer to the pressure the rotating strikes have put on the province's politicians. 

Many staff at Quebec schools voted in high numbers to hold strike days, with some schools getting upwards of 90 per cent support for strike action.

With the first round of rotating strike days completed, a second round is scheduled to begin Nov. 9.

Translated from La Presse Canadienne


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