Negotiations are currently underway between the government and the public and parapublic sector unions affiliated with the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ). Seven federations representing teachers, support staff, professional staff at schools and CEGEPs and healthcare workers are implicated.
Demands for better wages and improved working conditions were submitted in October 2019. Despite a few days of negotiations, discussions hit a standstill in November 2020. The government doesn’t seem willing to make any progress on this matter. For this reason, CSQ unions have chosen to intensify pressure tactics in March 2021, which could lead to a five-day strike mandate.
A collapsing education system
The CSQ and federations in the education sector, (whose members represent a significant proportion of public sector workers in the CSQ), share the same position on government inaction and collectively stress the need to act quickly by providing support staff and students with essential resources.
A healthcare system on life support
Unfortunately, the same situation is affecting our healthcare system. Staff members are exhausted from the last 10 years of cutbacks. Pay inequity, zero appreciation, excessive workloads and a lack of support are visible symptoms of these healthcare cuts. Poor working conditions combined with a lack of resources are clearly affecting the system. In 2019, they led to an unprecedented absenteeism rate that cost the government more than $700 million in employment insurance.
A staff at the end of its rope will have an impact on the population
The current situation is the result of several years of cutbacks and an insufficient investment in services for the population. Staff in the healthcare and education sectors have been subjected to special laws and injunctions that have forced them to quit their jobs or depart for the private sector. Consider this: one in five teachers leaves the profession in their first five years of practice. There has also been a noticeable increase in the number of early retirements.
Cutbacks in the public sector affect the working conditions of staff, but they also have severe consequences on the entire population because of the negative impact on the quality of services.
A Structural Problem
The government is turning a deaf ear to our demands, citing “limitations in the fiscal framework”, when it is actually a reluctance on their part to resolve a persistent structural problem. Quebec has the wherewithal to reverse this and must respond to the current crisis by providing the resources that public services need to function properly. Clearly, the measures taken so far are insufficient.
The pandemic will have far-reaching consequences, so establishing a concrete and structured long-term recovery plan is imperative. If the government continues to do nothing, things will get worse. Quebec is currently at a crossroads and must make a choice: invest in the public sector now or maintain status quo and risk aggravating an already dire situation.
Negotiations in the public sector are everyone’s business. After all, education and healthcare are essential services and a priority for the well-being of our society.
The current situation is untenable and has to change now!