The Quebec government is appointing an arbitrator to “reach a negotiated agreement as quickly as possible” with Common Front unions, which are beginning a series of public sector strikes on Tuesday. The Autonomous Federation of Education (FAE) and the Interprofessional Health Federation of Quebec (FIQ) are going it alone in the negotiations, each confirming on their side that they are not considering resorting to arbitration “for now.”
Labor Minister Jean Boulet announced the appointment of an arbitrator on social media on Monday.
Negotiations with the public sector: I announce the appointment of a mediator to reach a negotiated agreement with the Common Front unions as quickly as possible.
— Jean Boulet (@JeanBoulet10) November 20, 2023
A decision welcomed by Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel. “We are using all means at our disposal to reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” she said in a statement to the media. “We therefore welcome the arrival of a mediator to promote exchanges with the Common Front. I would like to thank my colleague Jean Boulet, Minister of Labor, for the rapid response to his appointment. »
The appointment came following a request Thursday from the common front of public sector union members represented by the Confederation of National Unions, the Alliance of Professional and Technical Personnel in Health and Social Services, the Centrale des National Unions (CSQ) and the Quebec Federation the worker. These unions represent 420,000 health, social and education workers who will exercise strike mandates from Tuesday.
According to a union source, discussions are currently underway with a view to a meeting involving the arbitrator and the parties.
According to Jean-Claude Bernatchez, full professor of labor relations at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, the mediator can help the parties “re-evaluate” and “prune” their requests. “He can intervene on issues that have nothing to do with salary,” he explains. In general, he first suggests solutions to what is easier to solve. [puis s’en aller] towards what is more difficult. »
No arbitrator at the moment
FIQ, which is not part of the Common Front, says it has not requested an arbitrator and does not intend to do so in the “short term.” Members of the FIQ will be out for two days starting Thursday.
Arbitration is also not planned for the FAE. “At the moment we have relied a little on the development of discussions at the tables in order to move forward,” says its president Mélanie Hubert. We remain confident that this will be possible. But if you have to go there [à la médiation], it would be a tool that we evaluate, among other things. »
The 66,500 members of the FAE will begin an indefinite general strike on Thursday without having access to a strike fund. “They knew it when it was voted on,” says Mélanie Hubert. It shows how widespread the dissatisfaction is, how determined members are to make their voices heard by any means possible, even by means that they find difficult to imagine in the first place. All. »
The FAE recommended that teachers set up an “emergency fund” to prepare for this indefinite general strike. “They were told to do everything they could, especially making arrangements with mortgagees, car, cable, telephone, etc.,” she continues.
The approximately 95,000 members of the Federation of Education Unions affiliated with the CSQ also do not have a strike fund – apart from “rare” local exceptions “for certain compensation”, we point out. A situation that is not new and that is explained by the “expensive” costs associated with such a fund, according to Lorraine Pagé, chair of the CSQ from 1988 to 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,” she explains. Given the number of people involved in the strike movement, it becomes inaccessible. »
According to Lorraine Pagé, the lack of strike funds does not dampen the strikers’ enthusiasm. The issue of money is mainly discussed at general meetings where a strike vote is called for, she noted. “Once we voted for it, we accepted the idea,” she said. We often started putting some money aside […] and we don’t really hear about it anymore. When the strike begins, people are driven by determination. »
With Jasmine Legendre
To watch in the video