Workers at hundreds of Quebec daycare centres go on strike

Thousands of Quebec parents have been forced to find alternative childcare as workers at 400 non-profit daycare centres across the province are on strike today.

More than 21,000 children impacted by day-long strike at Quebec early childhood education centres

Negotiations between the provincial government and the union representing the daycare workers broke down Thursday and have not resumed since. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Thousands of Quebec parents have been forced to find alternative childcare today as workers at 400 non-profit daycare centres across the province are on strike.

More than 21,000 children will be impacted by the day-long strike at early childhood education centres (CPEs) across Quebec.

Negotiations between the provincial government and the CSN, the labour federation representing about 11,000 workers at the CPEs, stalled last Thursday and have not picked up since.

At around 10 a.m., more than 1,000 protesters gathered at Place des Arts in Montreal. More than 2,000 workers were also expected to picket in front of about 107 facilities across the city.

Québec solidaire members Amir Khadir and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois are expected to be among those striking in Montreal.

Workers are also protesting at various places in Quebec City throughout the day, and in other cities in Quebec including Sherbrooke and Rouyn-Noranda. 

Changes to retirement plan cause concern

Representatives from both sides have blamed each other for the impasse, with each side accusing the other of being inflexible.

The CSN has accused Quebec of putting impossible demands on the workers.

Quebec's Ministry of Families wants to push the age of retirement from 60 to 61 or for employees to pay part of future deficits in the retirement system.

More than 2,000 workers were also expected to picket in front of about 107 facilities across the city. (CBC)

For Wylma Cobb, who has been an early childhood educator since 1980, the retirement issue is of particular importance.

She's been on leave for two years due to a knee injury, but pushed through the pain to stand alongside her fellow CPE workers in protest of the government's inaction.

"We have lots of extra training in this," Cobb said. "We promote values and choice We're not [just] standing around watching kids all day."

For older daycare workers, being forced to work an extra year before they can retire can be physically taxing.

"To interact with children, you're down at their level, and it's up and down continually all day, oftentimes having to pick children up," said Jeff Begley, a CSN spokesperson.

Budget cuts impact services, workers say

The union has also criticized the government for making budget cuts since 2014.

It says those cuts have impacted the quality of services children receive.
Wylma Cobb (left) and Michèle Charron are striking CPE workers. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

Class sizes have grown at certain CPEs and some services, including laundry and speech therapy, have been cut.

"We used to have help," said Michele Charron, who has worked at a CPE in Pointe-Saint-Charles for six years. "Our workload has increased."

The union has been without a collective agreement for three years.

The ministry, meanwhile, has blamed the union for "sticking to its positions," and said it was willing to negotiate "day and night" if necessary. 

Parents and children affected

Some parents support the strike, but are still inconvenienced by its impact.

Jessica Lukian worked from home to take care of her daughter, Arielle, whose CPE was closed for the day.

Lukian told CBC Daybreak's Mike Finnerty that she supports the educators because she sees "the effort that goes into their day-to-day" operations.

She added she believes it's important to support them because they are also educating infants.

Parents do not want to see their children's care diminish because of budget cuts, Lukian said.

Next steps

The daycare workers are expected to go back to work on Tuesday to celebrate Halloween with the children.

CSN spokesperson Louise Labrie said it's possible the strike mandate will be renewed after that, but the federation hopes the negotiations — which have been ongoing for 30 months — will conclude soon.

"We aren't happy about this," Labrie said. "We would rather be at work, we would rather receive our salary than be on strike today."

Labrie said about 10 subjects are still on the negotiation table.

"The ministry has to unblock the mandate so we can continue our work and conclude this collective agreement," she said.

With files from Radio-Canada, Canadian Press, CBC Daybreak, and CBC's Lauren McCallum