Historic Strike Underway as 420,000 Quebec Public Sector Workers Demand Fair Wages Amid Inflation

People take part in a public sector union demonstration in Montreal, Saturday, September 23, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes) Graham Hughes

Schools and Healthcare Services Face Disruptions as Unions Reject Government’s Offer

Quebec is witnessing one of its most significant labor strikes in recent history as approximately 420,000 public sector workers, represented by a coalition of unions, commenced a one-day strike early Monday morning. The move comes after prolonged negotiations with the Quebec government have failed to produce an agreement satisfactory to the unions concerning wages and working conditions.

Massive Strike Impacts Daily Life

As of midnight, elementary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges, have been affected, with operations suspended until 10:30 a.m. and noon respectively. Most French school service centers have canceled morning classes altogether, with plans to resume in the afternoon. The impact is pronounced for parents of school-age children and is being felt across the province with large protests expected to unfold.

In the healthcare sector, essential services like emergency and intensive care maintain a 100 percent capacity, but other departments, including mental health, youth protection, and medical imaging, are operating at significantly reduced capacity—between 70 and 85 percent.

Unions Demand More Amidst High Inflation

The strike, according to union leaders, is a “historic fight” to preserve workers’ purchasing power in the face of soaring inflation rates. The “common front” of unions has outrightly dismissed the government’s latest offer made on Oct. 28, which includes a 10.3 percent salary increase over five years and a one-time payment of $1,000 to each worker, labeling it as “paltry.”

Robert Comeau, the president of the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS), emphasizes that negotiations have been ongoing since the government tabled its offer in December 2022, with no fruitful outcome as of the last meeting on Friday.

Unions Counter with Their Proposal

The common front, composed of entities including the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS), and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), is calling for a wage increase closer to 20 percent over the next three years.

Countering the government’s offer, the unions have proposed a three-year contract with annual increases tied to the inflation rate: two percentage points above inflation in the first year or $100 per week—whichever is more beneficial—escalating to three and four points higher in the subsequent years.

More Strikes on the Horizon

This strike is likely the precursor to additional disruptions, with the Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) planning a two-day walkout later this week. Furthermore, a union representing approximately 65,000 Quebec teachers has threatened an unlimited general strike starting November 23 if their demands are not met.

The government, while offering pay raises, has also proposed additional funds for shifts deemed priorities, such as night and weekend shifts for nurses and increased support for teachers’ aides in primary schools. An extra one percent increase is on the table for workers earning less than $52,000 a year.