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Quebec public-sector unions continue to see strong support for strike mandates

People take part in a public sector union demonstration in Montreal, Saturday, September 23, 2023. Members of several Quebec public-sector unions are continuing to vote in favour of strike mandates by large margins. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — Quebec's public sector workers continue to give their unions strong backing to go on strike if they're unable to successfully negotiate new contracts with the provincial government, the federations said at about the half-way point of the voting process.

The four unions, which represent around 420,000 education, health care and social service workers, say more than 90 per cent of members who have participated in votes have supported a strike mandate.

The labour groups, which are working together, have been asking their members to back strike mandates since mid-September, with voting scheduled to continue until Oct. 13.

An unlimited strike would be proceeded by several strike days.  

The Centrale des syndicats du Québec, which represents most of the province's primary and secondary school teachers as well as other education professionals and support staff, said around 50 of its unions have held meetings and support for a strike mandate has generally been above 90 per cent.

Several locals have unanimously voted in favour of a strike mandate, the CSQ said, with the lowest rate of support among education professionals in Rivière-du-Loup, Que., where 83 per cent of members backed potential job action. 

“When we say that the expectations of workers are high, the results coming in confirm what we’re hearing on the ground,” said CSQ President Éric Gingras, adding the interim tallies suggest members “massively” support the federation’s approach to negotiations with the province.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux, which represents patient care aides and other health care and education support staff, said support for a strike mandate has averaged 92.6 per cent at the 50 meetings held so far.

“Numbers this high, with participation rates this high, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this. It’s certainly a sign of our members state of mind. They have nothing to lose, they’re angry and they want to go all the way,” said François Énault, a CSN vice-president responsible for public-sector negotiations.

The Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux, whose members include medical technologists, psychotherapists and other professionals working in health-care and social services, said its members have voted in favour of the strike mandate by an average of 96.7 per cent.

The Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec which represents thousands of patient care aides and other health-care and education support staff said around a quarter of its locals have held votes and more than 95 per cent of members have voted in favour of the strike mandate. 

“This 95 per cent plus (vote) clearly demonstrates the anger of our members at the government’s insulting and arrogant offer of nine per cent over five years,” said FTQ president Magali Picard, adding that the negotiations come at a time when the provincial government is spending billions of dollars on subsidies intended to create jobs that Premier François Legault has described as exciting and well-paying.

“The jobs in our world are exciting, but not well-paying and, above all, not stimulating" with the current conditions, Picard said

The workers are seeking wage increases of at least $100 a week this year, with further increases over the next two years.

The unions collective agreements expired last March.

Sonia LeBel, president of the Treasury Board, said last week that she hopes a deal will be reached before the end of the year and asked the unions to reduce their number of demands. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2023.

Lia Lévesque, The Canadian Press

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