The Quebec government is asking a conciliator to “reach a negotiated agreement as soon as possible” with the Common Front unions, which are starting a series of strikes in the public sector on Tuesday. Going into the negotiations alone, the Autonomous Education Federation (FAE) and the Interprofessional Federation of Quebec Health (FIQ) say, each for their part, that they are not considering resorting to conciliation “at the moment”.
Labor Minister Jean Boulet announced the appointment of a conciliator on social media on Monday.
Negotiations with the public sector: I announce the appointment of a conciliator to reach a negotiated agreement with the Common Front unions as soon as possible.
— Jean Boulet (@JeanBoulet10) November 20, 2023
A decision welcomed by the president of the Finance Council, Sonia LeBel. “We are taking the means at our disposal to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” he said in a statement sent to the media. “This is why we welcome the arrival of a conciliator who promotes exchanges with the Common Front. I thank my colleague Jean Boulet, Minister of Labour, for acting quickly on his appointment. »
The appointment was made following a request presented on Thursday by the common front of public sector unions represented by the Confederation of National Trade Unions, the Alliance of Professional and Technical Personnel in Health and Social Services, the Centrale des national unions ( CSQ) and Quebec. Federation of Workers. These unions represent 420,000 health, social services and education employees, who will exercise strike mandates from Tuesday.
According to a union source, discussions are underway for a meeting in which the conciliator and the parties would participate.
The mediator will be able to help the parties “reassess their requests” and “prune them,” according to Jean-Claude Bernatchez, senior professor of labor relations at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières. “He can intervene in matters that are not related to the salary”, he specifies. In general, it will start by proposing solutions for what is easier to solve, (and then move on) to what is more difficult. »
There is no conciliator yet
The FIQ, which is not part of the Common Front, assures that it has not requested a conciliator nor that it intends to do so in the “short term”. FIQ members will be out for two days starting Thursday.
Conciliation is not in the FAE cards either. “For us, at the moment, we were relying a little on the evolution of the discussions at the tables to move forward,” says its president, Mélanie Hubert. We hope that this will be possible. But if we have to go there (to mediation), it would be one tool that we will evaluate among the others. »
The 66,500 members of the FAE will start an indefinite general strike on Thursday, without being able to count on a strike fund. “They knew it when the vote was taken,” says Mélanie Hubert. It shows how widespread the fed-up is, how determined members are to make their voices heard by any means possible, including a medium that will be difficult for them to take on in the first place. »
The FAE recommended to teachers the establishment of a “contingency fund” to prepare for this indefinite general strike. “They were told to do everything they could, especially to make arrangements with mortgage lenders, car, cable, phone, etc.,” he continues.
The approximately 95,000 members of the Federation of Teaching Unions, affiliated to the CSQ, also do not have a strike fund – except for the “rare” local exceptions “for certain compensations”, we indicate. A situation that is not new and that can be explained by the “expensive” cost associated with a fund of this type, according to Lorraine Pagé, who chaired the CSQ between 1988 and 1999.
“Members would be forced to pay a large amount every month to build a pot big enough to fund 95,000 people on strike for 10, 12, 15, 20 days,” he explains. It becomes inaccessible, given the number of people involved in the strike movement. »
According to Lorraine Pagé, the absence of strike funds does not slow down the ardor of the strikers. The question of money is mainly discussed, he observed, during general meetings where a strike vote is called for. “As soon as we voted on it, we embraced the idea,” he said. Often, we will have started to leave some money (…) and we no longer hear about it. When the strike begins, people are driven by determination. »
With Jasmine Legendre
To see on video