Workers’ unions are calling it a first of its kind.
Roughly 420,000 public sector employees – teachers, school staff and health and social services workers – are going on strike Monday.
The workers are from four “common front” unions – CSN, CSQ, FTQ and APTS – in the province.
“First time in Quebec that we’re having 420,000 people in the public services that are going on strike together,” said Eric Gringas, the president of the Centrale Des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ).
Francois Enault, the first vice-president of the Confederation des syndicats nationaux (CSN), says public sector workers are frustrated.
“Two years ago, Mr. (François) Legault was calling us angels, and now two years after they forget us, they don’t want to give us a good offer.
“All the people in the public sector right now are really mad. They are tired.”
The union federations rejected a new contract offer from the Quebec government last week, saying it fell short of what they were looking for.
“What we’re asking, it’s legitimate. So that’s the main thing right now,” said Gingras. “After seeing what’s happening in schools for the past years, what’s happening in the health-care system in the past years, people say we need more nurses, we need more teachers. How can we attract them? By having better working conditions and having better salaries.
“It’s the first time in over 50 years that the common front is together that way. But after what they showed us a week ago, we’re probably sure that we’re going to strike again. We’re going to think about it this weekend, we’re going to see what’s happening in the next few days. But we may have to go on another series of strikes, then we’ll see how it’s going to be from there.”
Classes will start late in Quebec on Monday, with teachers and school staff on strike from midnight until 10:30 a.m. School in Montreal’s three major English school boards is scheduled to begin around 11 a.m.
“To show our good faith, it’s a small strike in the schools,” said Gingras. “It’s only going to be until 10:30. We want… the kids to have school. We want to show good faith but then again, we want to show that we’re serious.”
After rejecting earlier offers from the government, common front workers voted 95 per cent in favour of strike action in mid-October, ranging from rotating strikes to a full-scale walkout.
MORE JOB ACTION: Hundreds of Montreal school bus drivers on unlimited strike
Quebec’s Treasury Board issued a news release last week 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. The province says 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.
“In the past year when we talk about the cost of living, we talk about around 11.5 per cent,” said Enault. “So just for two years, the raise they give to us, it’s not enough to cover that portion of the inflation for the last two years. So that’s why the people are really mad. It’s a joke that kind of offer we receive right now.”
About 65,000 Quebec teachers say they will launch an unlimited general strike on Nov. 23. Union leadership with the Federation autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) said the government has about three weeks to settle with them and avoid paralyzing part of the school system.
The Federation interprofessionnelle de la sante (FIQ), which represents 80,000 nurses, auxiliary nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists, will be holding a two-day strike on Nov. 8 and 9.
–With files from The Canadian Press