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Quebec public sector unions announce new 7-day strike for 420,000 workers

Last week, some 420,000 members of the coalition of public sector unions known as the common front walked off the job for three days, shuttering schools and hitting health care. (André Vuillemin/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Last week, some 420,000 members of the coalition of public sector unions known as the common front walked off the job for three days, shuttering schools and hitting health care. (André Vuillemin/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers who walked off the job last week will hold another strike in December — their last before launching tougher pressure tactics, the leaders of four Quebec unions vowed Tuesday morning.

The coalition of public sector unions known as the common front, which boasts 420,000 health, social services and education workers, announced a week-long strike planned for Dec. 8 to 14.

"This is the final strike sequence before calling an unlimited general strike," the union leaders said in a news release.

"This announcement demonstrates our seriousness and determination to reach an agreement before the holidays."

The one-week strike in December would shut down public schools across the province. Many schools in Quebec are already closed due to the unlimited strike by 65,000 teachers affiliated with the Fédération Autonome de l'Enseignement (FAE), a union that is not part of the common front and whose members work in the French school system.

The strike will also cause some disruptions in health-care settings, with staff taking on reduced workloads, but essential services will still be provided.

The common front's upcoming seven-day walkout will mark the longest public sector strike in 50 years, according to the group.

Included in the common front are four separate unions or union federations: the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS) and the fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

Movement at negotiating table

Speaking to reporters in Montreal Tuesday morning, union leaders said last week's three-day strike was successful as it appeared to provoke some movement at the negotiating table.

"It's not perfect, it's pretty slow, but … we've had more movement in the last two weeks than we've had in the past year," said François Enault, vice-president of the CSN.

CSQ president Éric Gingras said he understands the strike is hard on parents who have to make arrangements for their children, on hospital patients who need to reschedule surgeries and on union members who are without pay.

"Of course it's hard, it's hard for the population, it's hard for our members, but they know what's at stake now," he said.

He's asking the population to stand with the unions and is urging Premier François Legault to reach an agreement with his group quickly.

"There's three weeks before Christmas, 10 days before our strike, so there's a lot of place, 24 hours a day, to get a deal done," Gingras said.

Following the strike, Legault said the province is willing to offer unions more money, but only if they  are willing to make sacrifices, including being more flexible with the scheduling of teachers and health-care workers.

While wages are a main sticking point in the negotiations, which have been ongoing for about a year, union leaders say working conditions must also be improved.

"Everyone knows that our working conditions are not acceptable, that our tasks are too heavy, that what we do every day is not valued enough," union leaders said.

Unions say it's time to get the ball rolling and reach a settlement at the negotiating table.

"If negotiations drag on, the government will bear the odious consequences of its inaction," they wrote.

The strike mandate, adopted by 95 per cent of the members of the unions in October, provides for strike days, isolated or grouped, before reaching the point of an indefinite strike.