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Children from a daycare walk past a demonstration of daycare workers on the first day of rotating strikes in Montreal on Oct. 12.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Thousands of public daycare workers in Quebec launched an unlimited strike on Wednesday, after contract talks with the government stalled over pay raises for support staff such as kitchen and maintenance employees.

The strike closed about 400 government-subsidized daycare centres across the province.

Quebec’s largest daycare workers union says more people in the sector will quit and the province will face labour shortages if the government can’t significantly raise wages and improve working conditions.

“The government does not seem to grasp the full extent of the anger of workers, who voted 92.1 per cent in favour of the unlimited strike,” union vice-president Lucie Longchamps said in a statement Tuesday. “For a lot of workers, this negotiation is the last chance.”

About 10,000 daycare workers affiliated with the Confederation of National Trade Unions are taking part in the unlimited strike, with the main sticking point being salaries for support staff.

Quebec has offered a pay raise of about 20 per cent over three years for educators. But support staff – including maintenance and kitchen employees – were offered pay raises of up to nine per cent over three years.

Another union representing public daycare employees, the Federation des intervenantes en petite enfance, pointed out that similar support staff jobs are paid between 20 per cent and 35 per cent more in schools and elsewhere in the public sector.

Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel acknowledged in a radio interview on Wednesday that daycare support staff don’t earn as much as their peers in the public sector, but she said that is because their responsibilities and the work setting are different.

“I cannot make the same effort for the other employees that I did for the educators,” LeBel said.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Premier Francois Legault said an unlimited strike is “terrible for parents, also for children. It does not make sense what unions do.” Legault, however, ruled out back-to-work legislation for the moment.

“The 20 per cent increase is for educators; it’s not for the 550,000 employees of the Quebec government,” Legault said.

The Federation des intervenantes en petite enfance, however, said it is demanding a pay increase between 13.6 per cent and 14.8 per cent over three years for support staff.