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Hundreds of thousands of Quebec public-sector workers on strike today

November 6, 2023
The Canadian Press

(jekershner7/Getty Images)
By Morgan Lowrie

Hundreds of thousands of Quebec public sector workers are off the job today in the first of a series of one-day strikes.

Schools, health care facilities and social services will all be disrupted as four unions representing a “common front” of some 420,000 workers go on strike to protest the province’s latest contract offer.

The unions are promising a historic fight to preserve their purchasing power during a time of high inflation.

The government’s latest offer includes a 10.3 per cent salary increase over five years and a one-time payment of $1,000 to each worker — a proposal the unions have described as “paltry.”

The strike will last from midnight until 10:30 a.m. in elementary and secondary schools, and until noon in junior colleges.

Some health and social services including mental health, youth protection and medical imagery will operate at between 70 and 85 per cent capacity, depending on the department, while emergency and intensive care services will be maintained at 100 per cent.

Other unions are expected to hold strikes in the coming days, including a two-day walkout on Wednesday and Thursday by the union representing 80,000 nurses, auxiliary nurses, respiratory therapists and other health professionals.

A union representing some 65,000 Quebec teachers has also said it will launch an unlimited general strike on Nov. 23 if an agreement isn’t reached.

The negotiations have been going on since the beginning of the year, after the government tabled its offer in December 2022. Both sides were still at the table as of Friday, according to Robert Comeau, the president of the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la sante et des services sociaux.

The government has said that in addition to pay raises, its offer includes more money for workers and shifts it considers priorities, such as nurses working nights and weekends and teachers’ aides in primary schools. Workers who earn less than $52,000 a year would also receive an additional one per cent increase.

The unions, on the other hand, say the government’s proposal doesn’t cover inflation. They have countered with a demand for a three-year contract with annual increases tied to the inflation rate: two percentage points above inflation in the first year or $100 per week, whichever is more beneficial, followed by three points higher in the second year and four points higher in the third.

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