Stalled contract negotiations lead to public sector protest

Stalled contract negotiations lead to public sector protest

MONTREAL — Tens of thousands of Quebec public sector workers took to the streets of Montreal Saturday afternoon to pressure the province to reach a deal on their collective agreements.

The march, which stretched from the foot of Mount Royal to Premier Philippe Couillard’s downtown office, was boosted by some 225 busloads of people from around the province.

Jacques Letourneau, president of the CSN labour union, promised the workers will put on more pressure if the government refuses to budge from its current position.

At present, it is proposing a two-year salary freeze followed by three years of one per cent salary increases. In contrast, the Common Front, a coalition of public and semi-public workers, is asking for a 4.5 per cent yearly increase for the next three years.

“We believe in negotiation,” said Letourneau, whose union represents about 170,000 of the affected workers. “We think we’re capable of reaching a negotiated settlement, but it’s clear that if the government won’t budge — as it hasn’t for a year — the mobilization will intensify.  It’s clear the anger of the workers is being felt more and more.”

Daniel Boyer, president of the FTQ union, predicted public sector workers would have to escalate their actions in light of the failed negotiations. He said they have planned a series of economically “disruptive activities” in the upcoming days.

Earlier this week the CSN, which represents mostly workers in the health and social services sectors, announced their unions received strike mandates of 85 per cent. The union representing the majority of primary and secondary school teachers got an 82 per cent mandate.

“To date, these are strong strike mandates, crowded assemblies,” Boyer said. “We’re not talking about 51 per cent or two-thirds strike mandates. These are 85, 90, 95 per cent mandates.  Our goal is not to strike; it’s not to use pressure tactics. It’s to negotiate.”

The strike mandate of the Common Front consists of rotating strikes, to be held when the unions deem appropriate.

On Wednesday, 34,000 French-language public school teachers held a one-day strike to protest the lagging contract talks.

Lia Levesque, The Canadian Press

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