Anger is growing among public sector workers faced with the long-standing contempt of the Legault government, which is still refusing to set the new course that is needed to restore public services. It’s been exactly a year since collective agreements came to an end for 550,000 workers providing services to Quebecers. Back then, the government said it wanted to quickly reach an agreement with its employees; twelve months later, it’s clear that these were empty words. This morning, thousands of workers from different unions (CSN, CSQ, FIQ, APTS, FTQ, FAE, SFPQ and SPGQ) are coming together to voice their anger before the National Assembly in Québec City and the premier’s office in Montréal.
Throughout the day, and despite their exhaustion and constant work overload, hundreds of thousands of women and men dedicated to serving Quebecers will be making noise throughout the province, sounding the alarm about untenable situations currently experienced on the ground and denouncing the government’s inertia in response to such situations.
Union leaders in Québec City (Jacques Létourneau, CSN; Sonia Ethier, CSQ; Nancy Bédard, FIQ; Andrée Poirier, APTS; Daniel Boyer, FTQ; Sylvain Mallette, FAE; Christian Daigle, SFPQ and Line Lamarre, SPGQ) are saying that the government must act now.
Speaking with one voice, the union leaders made the following statement: “The disaster we’re seeing now in health and social services, in the civil service and in parapublic organizations did not appear overnight. Implemented over decades, centralizing reforms, budget cuts, and austerity have demolished public services. Today, it’s utterly obvious that this is not the way to go. So before playing that famous old song that says ‘We have no money, government coffers are empty,’ the Legault government needs to think about the real question: ‘Can we afford to do without public services?’ The answer is no, as shown irrefutably by the year we’ve just been through.”
The unions are demanding immediate and significant improvement to the salaries of government employees, and to the conditions in which they work and practice, in order to halt departures – of which there have been thousands since the pandemic began – and to succeed in recruiting new employees who will be able to quickly step up and lend a hand.
“The government itself actually acknowledged this,” say the union spokespersons. “The minister for the economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, made the following comment to justify a 127% increase in compensation for the CEO of Investissement Québec: ‘If we want to have tools that match our ambitions, we have to pay people accordingly.’ This is absolutely true, and it should also apply to the workers who take care of us, our parents, our children, and our loved ones on a daily basis.” The union leaders also note that with every passing day in which the government fails to take direct action to increase the human and financial resources allotted to health and social services, education, the civil service and government organizations, problems of employee attraction and retention get worse and significant impacts are felt in terms of services to Quebecers.
Workers now want answers to their questions. After two and a half years in power, what is the government waiting for to take the steps and provide the funds that are needed to put public services back on track? When does it plan to give its representatives at the bargaining tables a mandate to reach agreements that are satisfactory for one and all – agreements that meet current needs and will change the face of public services, both for the people providing them and for all Quebecers?
If the government keeps on refusing to provide appropriate answers to these questions, union organizations will be deploying more forceful mobilization actions on the ground over the next weeks. “We’re not going to just stand and watch while services provided to the general public are in jeopardy,” say the union leaders. “We’ll be mobilizing on behalf of all Quebecers.”