More than 65,000 teachers, mostly from elementary schools and high schools throughout Quebec, started an open-ended general strike this week, sending parents scrambling and cranking up the pressure on the government during negotiations.
The teachers joined hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers in education, health care and social services that held temporary strikes earlier in the week, shutting down schools, delaying surgeries and disrupting public services.
Unions are pushing for higher wages and other concessions from the government of Quebec Premier François Legault, who has indicated that the province is willing to increase its offers.
The latest strike involves teachers, represented by the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), who have been without a contract since April 1. The union is looking for better working conditions, including more days off and the addition of more classes dedicated to students with special needs, along with better pay as they still earn less than their peers in the rest of the country, it says on its website.
Karine Côté-Andreetti, a mother of three with one school-age boy, said even though she and her partner have flexible jobs that allow them to work from home, it will be difficult to entertain their son if the strike were to last for weeks. Nonetheless, she supports the movement.
“My anger is not aimed at the striking teachers, but at the government denying them decent working conditions,” she said, adding that she hopes the province will meet the union’s demands.
The teacher walkout capped a week of labour disruptions.
The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), representing some 80,000 nurses and other health care professionals, held a second two-day strike Thursday and Friday “because the government refuses to listen to their demands and persists in wanting to further degrade their working conditions,” the union said in a statement denouncing below-inflation pay-raise offers.
And about 420,000 other public-sector workers in education, health care and social services held a three-day strike from Tuesday to Thursday, after a one-day strike earlier this month, shutting down other schools and delaying health care procedures.
This “common front” made up of four unions known by their initials, CSQ, CSN, APTS and FTQ, started a conciliation process with government negotiators this week.
François Enault, first vice-president of the CSN, said the unions are waiting for the results of negotiations on Sunday afternoon, and expects to make an announcement early next week regarding further mobilization. Members have already voted to authorize an unlimited general strike if necessary, Mr. Enault said.
The biggest sticking point, the union leader said, is around wages. The latest government offer, made in late October and rejected by the unions, provided for a 10.3-per-cent increase over five years for most members and a one-time payment of $1,000 to each worker, which Mr. Enault said was unacceptable.
“It’s not realistic in relation to the cost of living,” he said, as inflation has hit members who work as teachers, school support staff, health care workers such as orderlies and technicians, and hundreds of other roles. The unions have been asking for a three-year contract with annual increases tied to the inflation rate.
The proposed deal was particularly hard to swallow, Mr. Enault said, knowing that the government recently offered a 21-per-cent pay increase over five years to provincial police officers, which they rejected in September. Those negotiations are continuing.
Recent announcements, like the billions of dollars in subsidies for Northvolt’s battery plant or the millions of dollars of public money allotted for preseason NHL hockey games in Quebec City, discredited the government’s position that it had to uphold fiscal restraint during negotiations and fired up workers, Mr. Enault said.
Quebec’s Treasury Board did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Martin Petitclerc, a University of Quebec at Montreal historian who researches social movements, said the strike represented “a historic mobilization” of a record number of workers.
“Numerous resolutions in favour of an unlimited general strike were adopted, with very strong majorities, which had not been seen since the 1980s,” he said.
Dr. Petitclerc said the power balance is favourable to the unions and that the conflict is likely to go on if the government does not present better offers.
With reports from The Canadian Press