QUEBEC — Three union federations representing more than 400,000 public sector workers announced Sunday they intend to move forward with strike plans after rejecting a new contract offer from the Quebec government.
The federations — which describe themselves as the common front and are negotiating together — say the new offer falls far short of what they were looking for.
"We had hope," Magali Picard, the president of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, told reporters in Quebec City. Instead, the government has continued with "the same tone of arrogance and insults towards the 420,000 workers we represent."
The unions, which have all secured strike mandates from their members, say they're sticking to a plan to walk out for one day on Nov. 6, which could be followed by further action — including a full strike.
"If we have to go there, I can tell you that our members, more than ever, are going to do whatever it takes," she said. "Why? Because we can't go back any further."
Sonia LeBel, the chair of Quebec's Treasury Board, issued a news release earlier in the day saying the government is offering salary increases of 10.3 per cent over five years, as well as other measures, including a one-time payment of $1,000 to each worker in the first year of the contract.
Also included in the offer are further increases for nurses working nights, evenings and weekends, for example, as well as teachers' aides in secondary schools. LeBel said those increases — along with the $1,000 payment — brings the actual value of the offer to 14.8 per cent.
Workers who earn less than $52,000 a year would also receive an additional one per cent increase, the government said.
But the unions say the 14.8 per cent figure is misleading and the 10.3 per cent salary increase — up from nine per cent in the previous offer — is the one most workers will actually see on their paycheques.
"I know that Minister LeBel will talk to you about 14.8 per cent. Let's be clear: what a government worker will receive on their pay if they had to accept this is 10.3 per cent over five years," Picard said, adding the higher figure includes payments to workers who haven't been hired yet.
But LeBel maintained in an interview that the offer has to be looked at in its entirety, adding that the $1,000 payments will cost a billion dollars.
"I'm extremely surprised at the speed with which they took their position. The offer had just been put in the table when they rejected it out of hand with a vigour that is surprising for such a serious offer," she said Sunday.
LeBel said the offer is "certainly not insulting," and that she's now waiting for the unions to present a counter-offer, adding that they haven't responded to previous government offers with a counter-proposal.
"I'm expecting them to take a small step back from what happened this morning, to take the time to analyze the offer properly and in detail — because there are a lot of details in a government offer — and for them to come back to me, not in statements to the media, but at the bargaining table with a serious counter-offer," she said.
The negotiations began around a year ago, when the unions submitted their demands. The first government offer came last December and LeBel reiterated Sunday that she hopes a deal will be reached before the end of the year.
The unions want a three-year contract with an increase tied to the consumer price index plus two per cent during the first year, or $100 a week, whichever is higher, and increases tied to the CPI plus three per cent in the second year and four per cent in the third.
François Enault, first vice-president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux labour federation, said the size of the province's offer is particularly glaring when compared to other pay increases recently offered by the government.
The increases in the current offer are 11 per cent less than those in a proposed contract that was rejected by provincial police officers in September and significantly less than the 30 per cent increase members of the province's legislature voted themselves earlier this year — while negotiations with public sector unions were ongoing.
The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé, which represents around 80,000 nurses and other health-care professionals, said in social media posts Sunday that it is "disappointed and angry" with the new offer.
The union, which is negotiating separately, plans to strike Nov. 8 and 9.
A teachers union that is negotiating independently, the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement, has also received a strike mandate from its 65,000 members but has not yet scheduled any strike days.
LeBel said temporary bonuses being payed to workers, including nurses and workers at long-term care centres, will continue until the new contract is signed. There had been concerns that the government would stop the payments in order to put pressure on the unions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2023.
— By Jacob Serebrin and Katrine Desautels in Montreal, with files from Lia Lévesque.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the term of the proposed contract was three years. It is, in fact, five years.