Contract talks at impasse after Quebec rejects public sector counter offer

Contract talks at impasse after Quebec rejects public sector counter offer

QUEBEC — Contract talks between the Quebec government and the province’s public sector workers remain at an impasse after Treasury Board President Martin Coiteux rejected the unions’ latest counter offer on Wednesday.

Coiteux said the two sides are still over $12 billion apart and called the unions’ counter “unacceptable.”

“We are light years apart,” Coiteux told reporters. “Their offer is completely unrealistic.”

The unions, which represent roughly 400,000 public sector workers and are negotiating as a common front, are asking for a 6.9-per-cent pay raise over three years. They initially asked for 13.5 per cent, also over three years.

Unions have been holding rotating strikes in order to pressure the government during negotiations.

The labour movement said it would put off three days of scheduled strikes in the hope of reaching a negotiated contract settlement with the provincial government.

The government offered workers a five-year package — a salary freeze for the first two years, followed by a one-per-cent increase per year, for three years.

Coiteux said in order to finance the unions’ offer the government would have to either raise taxes, go into deficit, cut spending in other departments, or take money out a fund dedicated to paying down public debt.

He said the government wasn’t willing to take any of those actions, adding he asked his head negotiator to ask the unions to see if they can “break the impasse.”

“Do we have the money to pay for that colossal amount?” he asked. “The answer is no. The following days are going to be absolutely crucial. The government is asking the unions to show signs they are serious.”

Quebec Federation of Labour president Daniel Boyer said the unions’ offer protects their members’ purchasing power and brings their salaries closer to workers in the private sector.

“Unlike the government, we have really improved our demands in the hope of advancing negotiations,” he said.

Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press

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