In Canada, an education union in Quebec is blaming the government for taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to impose a renewal of collective agreements for the entire public sector.
The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, had attempted to accelerate the negotiation of public sector collective agreements in an inflexible and non-negotiable framework, according to the Central des Syndicats du Québec, a Canadian education union. The framework aimed to have the public sector collective agreements for the next three years in place by 31 March. CSQ is an affiliate of Education International.
“The whole of Quebec is on pause to save human lives,” said Sonia Ethier, president of the CSQ. “At a time of general confinement and isolation, negotiating collective agreements for 550,000 people for a period of three years within a few hours is not a profitable or responsible option, either for government and public services or for the population. The only emergency that exists is that of decently managing a serious crisis in the interest of all Quebeckers, and that includes public sector workers.”
Do not shackle workers
In the current context of fighting the Coronavirus, the government had a duty to inspire the commitment, mobilisation and motivation of thousands of workers in the public sector, particularly those at the frontline, said the union. Therefore, a three-year shackle imposed on employees would do nothing to help the current situation.
“The difficulties experienced in the field before the Coronavirus epidemic did not disappear in health, education. and higher education,” said Ethier. “They are still waiting for solutions. We are sounding the alarm about the serious consequences of a reduction in the working conditions of public sector personnel, as proposed by the government. We believe that these solutions deserve to be given the time to dwell on them properly, once the pandemic has passed.”
Despite the confinement imposed by COVID-19, the CSQ managed to organise a general negotiation council of over 300 people by videoconference on 23-24 March. This body adopted and submitted a counter-proposal to the government’s offer.
However, the government has shown no openness to counter-proposals. It has still not tabled a full proposal to improve the conditions of health workers and other front-line personnel, especially in the education sector. According to the union, the Quebec government was requesting a blank cheque from the public sector by asking it to consent beforehand to undefined parameters.
“The crisis calls for responsibility, both from unions and employers,” said Ethier. “Unfortunately, unless there is a major change, the content of discussions with the government suggests nothing more than an attempt to impose retreats in the working conditions of health, education, and higher education.”
Extend collective agreements
In this context, the CSQ president called on Prime Minister François Legault to make the only responsible gesture in the current context: extend collective agreements while settling the crisis, and quickly grant bonuses to frontline personnel who are maintaining essential services to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can access the CSQ website with information about the negotiations here.