Quebec premier asks unions for flexibility amid collective bargaining talks
By Marisela Amador
Quebec’s public sector unions must be more “flexible” in their approach to collective bargaining talks with the province, Premier Francois Legault said Saturday, weeks before current contracts were set to expire.
Legault issued a Facebook post on Saturday saying union leaders are operating with a “closed mindset” and are refusing to sit down with the government to find a solution before their contracts end on Mar. 31.
“If the union leaders agreed to change their attitude, to get out of their closed mindset and come and discuss with us to change things, things would go faster,” he wrote. “It would be better for Quebecers, and it would be better for nurses and teachers. I sincerely hope that the union leaders will quickly accept to be part of the solution. We are waiting for them.”
His remarks came days after multiple public sector unions rejected a new offer from the province, arguing it did little to address working conditions for nurses, teachers and psychologists.
“I could understand if the government wanted to cut the salaries or working conditions of nurses and teachers,” Legault added. “But it is the opposite. We want to improve their conditions.”
The province tabled the offer after unions refused to participate in discussion forums organized by Quebec Treasury Board president Sonia Lebel.
During a press conference Wednesday, Lebel said her offers were worth $700 million and had been shared via email since the unions did not show up to the discussion forums where she intended to present them.
The unions, for their part, want the discussions to take place at the negotiation table rather than the forums.
The president of Quebec’s largest union — which represents more than 600,000 members — called the message “false” and accused the premier and the government of “disinformation.”
“This is all a big lie. The unions are more than ready to negotiate,” Magali Picard of the Quebec Federation of Labour said in an interview on Saturday.
Picard noted the discussion forums proposed by the government are not part of “a legal framework” for holding negotiations, where proposals can be put forward for discussion.
“The day we show up (to the forums), we are going to have talks, but when it’s time to ratify, the government can back out, and we have no way of saying that it was not what was negotiated,” Picard said.
“We are no longer in a period where we have time to talk. What we need to do now is sit down, negotiate, ratify these negotiations and bring about changes as quickly as possible.”
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