Nurses, health workers join other Quebec public sector workers on picket lines

MONTREAL — A Quebec union representing 80,000 nurses and other health-care workers started a four-day walkout on Monday, joining hundreds of thousands of other public sector employees on strike to pressure the provincial government to settle their collective agreements.

The nurses union, known as the FIQ, says a deal before the end of the year is possible, adding that its leadership is ready to hold talks over the holidays if that's what it takes. But union president Julie Bouchard told a news conference there are "still many obstacles."

For a negotiated settlement to occur before Jan. 1, Bouchard said, "We need a blitz."

Quebec's labour unrest has reached a high point. Aside from the FIQ, a group of four unions calling itself the "common front" and representing 420,000 public sector workers, including teachers, education support staff and lab technicians, are on strike until Dec. 14. Meanwhile, the FAE, a teachers union with about 66,000 members, has been on an unlimited general strike since Nov. 23.

Common front unions say that if a deal isn't reached soon, their next move will be to launch an unlimited strike.

Striking workers received some support on Monday from a major private sector union — the Syndicat des Métallos — which is affiliated with common front member FTQ. The steelworkers donated $100,000 in grocery gift cards for members of the common front and FAE unions, "to support families most affected as the holiday season approaches," the union said.

Quebec's striking unions rejected the government's most recent global contract offer, which included a salary increase of 12.7 per cent over five years; they said the offer doesn't keep pace with inflation.

Quebec Premier François Legault said last week he's open to offering workers more money but wants unions to make concessions on management priorities, such as the timelines for teachers to be assigned classes and the transfer of nurses between health facilities.

However, teachers say they have softened their position on the assignment of classes. FAE president Mélanie Hubert says teachers are ready to work with the province to ensure that most of them are assigned classes in June rather than in August. The government says it wants to avoid a perennial problem that occurs every year in late August, when school boards scramble to find teachers as the school year begins.

But Hubert said the union concessions weren't good enough for the government, adding that the FAE doesn't plan to make any more offers.

"We told the government, in our opinion, it is no longer the time to make further concessions," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 11, 2023.

The Canadian Press