SAQ workers strike for 2nd-straight day, affecting stores across Quebec

Striking SAQ workers closed hundreds of stores across Quebec again Monday. The provincial liquor board says it's still at the negotiating table and is ready to offer employees better scheduling arrangements and more full-time jobs.

Provincial liquor board says it's still at negotiating table, ready to offer better working conditions

SAQ workers strike for a second-straight day in Montreal. 'Eleven years and still part-time,' reads one picket sign. (Sean Henry/CBC)

Hundreds of SAQ stores and offices remained closed Monday across Quebec as employees protested against their working conditions for the second day in a row.

Unionized workers marched in the streets of Montreal and Quebec City, leaving managers in stores that remained opened to fend for themselves.

Pickets aimed to "shout loudly and indignantly about the SAQ's desire to impoverish them and reduce their working conditions," said Quebec's second-largest trade union federation, Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), in a statement.

The SAQ employees' union, the Syndicat des employé-es de magasin et de bureau de la SAQ (SEMB-SAQ), is part of the CSN.

Scheduling and job security for part-time employees is at the centre of the labour dispute. SAQ employees have been without a contract for about 21 months.

An SAQ protester blows into a noise maker Monday morning as employees went on strike for a second day in a row. (Radio-Canada)

Monday was the fourth day of protest since union members approved a six-day strike mandate back in June.

The strike days were not necessarily to be held consecutively, but Sunday's walkout came as a surprise when the union asked its members to walk off the job just after 10 a.m. — one day earlier than Monday's planned protest.

"Let's show our employer that we stand together and that we'll fight until the end to get a good collective agreement," the SEMB-SAQ said Sunday.

Union president Katia Lelièvre said the disruption is aimed at the employer and the corporation's executives rather than the customers.

More than 70 of the SAQ's 400 stores remained open Monday. A complete list of open stores can be found on the SAQ website. Customers can still shop online, as well.

Negotiations between the union representing SAQ employees and the employer are slated to continue Tuesday after a second consecutive day of protesting. (Radio-Canada)

'Negotiations are still on,' says SAQ

Both parties are expected to return to the bargaining table Tuesday.

While the union has lamented what it describes as the SAQ's inflexibility throughout the negotiation process, the SAQ issued a statement Sunday claiming it "is sensitive to issues of work-family balance and precarious employment."

It claims to have withdrawn its request to turn 100 vacancies into two-day weekend shifts and to have submitted new proposals on work-life balance and job insecurity.

Jacques Farcy, vice-president for sales at the SAQ, said the company is at the negotiating table and hopes "to find a common agreement" with the union.

Farcy said the SAQ plans to offer part-time employees 10 days' advance notice of changes to their schedule. Currently, they get five days.

"The negotiations are still on," he said.

The liquor board also says it has offered 38-hour positions to all of its employees currently working 30 hours, with some associated benefits.

Benefits may be available to part-time employees who have acquired some seniority, it adds, and weekend breaks have been offered as well.

With files from La Presse Canadienne