Public Sector Negotiations

5 May 2021

INFO-NEGOS April 16th, 2021

New government offers: insufficient, but the negotiations continue

Last March 31st, exactly one year after the end of the collective agreements, the government deposited new offers to all public sector union organizations. The government specifically chose this day while we were holding three (3) consecutive days of mobilization. In fact, the day before the Treasury Board’s deposit, on March 30th, the FTQ-affiliated unions formed huge rally of some 750 vehicles and paraded near the National Assembly to denounce that the negotiations are not moving. At Central table, where the major issues are being negotiated such as remuneration, we had been waiting for several months for a formal return to our proposals. The negotiating structure put in place by the government is heavy, ineffective and completely ignores the reality lived by our members and the extraordinary pressure that they face on a daily basis.

An expected return

We have offered the Treasury Board several opportunities of settlement. In the summer of 2020, we were asked to participate in intensive negotiations in order to settle the talks before the start of classes and the inevitable second pandemic wave. We made a revised global deposit on July 22nd to provoke movement and reach an agreement. Our proposals took into account the unprecedented context we are living in.  It also took into account the need to initiate an adjustment of working conditions for the problems of attracting and retaining support staff.

At the beginning of fall, when the Treasury Board threatened to drop the premiums expiring on September 30th, 2020 (specialized workers, psychologists, etc.), we called on the government to speed up negotiations… with no results.  We were waiting for a partial return that only came on March 31st. We’ve been waiting for this return for months. What happened: in less than four (4) hours, all the Union Centrals were met in a rush. As soon as the last meeting was over, the President of the Treasury Board’s held a press conference in order to make the proposals public. This third government offer contains certain movements which, although insufficient, gives us hope that the discussions will accelerate despite the significant gaps.

Our goal remains to reach a fair and equitable agreement as soon as possible. 
We are putting all our energies into it.

The remuneration delays are objective and documented by support staff. Recruitment is difficult and the sustainability of our public services is at stake. It is clear: the gaps of remuneration continue to dig for the support staff that we represent. The wage structure we are proposing on the third year is the beginning of a solution. March 31st offers do not solve the problem.

What about the government’s offers?

Is this third government proposal a step forward at the negotiating table? There has indeed been movement, but there is still a long way to go, whether at the sectoral tables where the specific working conditions are negotiated, or at the main (intersectoral) table. Despite of this, the atmosphere at the various tables remains constructive, which is essential.

The government is talking about a differentiated negotiation. Concretely, and we find it in the preamble of their proposal,  some targets were defined such as:

  • The significant improvement in the working conditions of nurses aids;
  • Better stabilization of nursing and cardiorespiratory teams;
  • Better educational success by increasing the appreciation of teachers;
  • Improved working conditions for youth center’s workers.

To these priorities, the government also plans to allocate $2,716 million to FTQ affiliated unions, an amount to be used by March 31, 2023 for pilot projects aiming for overall health of the employees. As we can see, these are very targeted measures, whereas the problems in health and social services as well as in Education are much broader.

Since the first deposit, the government’s offers lump sums. These amounts are one-time payment that are not added to salary increases and have no impact on your pension benefits (the RREGOP). For the period from April 1st, 2019 to March 31st, 2020 (the year before the end of the collective agreement), these amounts vary from $600 to $1,200, depending on the ranking and your paid hours. For the period from April 1st, 2020 to March 31st, 2021, the government is proposing an additional $0.66 for each hour paid. This is an improvement over its previous filing, but the addition of lump sums do not improve our members’ remuneration and does not help to reduce the gap once again observed by the Institut de la statistique du Québec which is 9.2% overall.

The correction of disparities depends on our wage structure on the third year. This structure allows for differentiated catch-up for rankings 1 to 11, while improving entry salaries and the first six (6) levels for rankings 12 to 28.

When the government talks about a differentiated approach and says that we want all our demands, that is false. Our approach considers the need to improve the lowest earners’ while improving the entry wages for higher rankings. The salary structure proposed by the FTQ is an illustration of this and it responds to the recurring structural problems. A negotiated settlement will necessarily have to address that.

Our priority: a negotiated agreement

We have revised our demands: 2% for each of the three (3) years of the collective agreement from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2023 and the implementation of our salary structure on the third year (worth slightly under 1%), while the government offers respectively 1.75%, 1.75% and 1.5%. In its latest offer, the government added the possibility to pay up to 1% on the very last day of the collective agreement to, subject to the achievement of certain economic parameters. This percentage is therefore not guaranteed and may be lower depending on the growth of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). We also need to substantially increase the employer’s contribution to group insurance in order to correct an inequitable distribution of costs. Again, compared to the distributions across all industry sectors, our members are paying too much of the costs and it is time to fix this problem.

Specific issues are currently being discussed in inter-union. This is the case with the RREGOP, the Treasury Board deposit of March 31st reflects the progress of our discussions. We work with the CSQ and the CSN, as more recently in the case of parental rights. Another issue that is progressing, although many issues are still in dispute, is the matter concerning the bonuses paid to some job titles of certified workers, the adjustment of certain problematics and the possible extension to some functions. We are still working here in inter-union FTQ-CSN-CSQ and, for this specific subject, with the SFPQ. For all other issues, whether at the FTQ centralTable, the Education Sector Tables (SCFP/SEPB/UES-800/FTQ/Collegial/Professionals) and the Health Sector Table (SCFP-SQEES FTQ), there is no common front and we are continuing discussions with the Treasury Board in order to reach a global agreement.

At the central table, several other issues are under discussion, especially the various bonuses including the retention bonus among psychologists, while an increase in the work week from 35 to 40 hours appeared in the deposit of March 31st, proposal that had never been discussed before. The increase would come along with a premium increased to 9%. This demand affects both Health and Social Services and Education.

On another note, we had been waiting for  feedback since September 22nd, 2020 regarding PAB and ASSS remuneration. The new Treasury Board deposit includes improvements, bonuses “subject to the resolution of complaints made to job titles in Staff Category 2 as a result of the 2010 and 2015 pay equity maintenance exercises.” While several elements of the proposal are interesting, this request alone from the government involves the withdrawal of complaints and the waiver to a complete retroactivity, subject to the finality of the recourses. We cannot accept such an approach. Discussions will continue.

The issues at sectoral tables involves more specific working conditions and work organization. Most of the Treasury Board’s deposit of March 31st is devoted to the employer’s proposals for the different categories of health and social services staff.

As for the sectoral tables in Education, negotiations are also continuing. We can’t talk about any agreement at the moment of writing these lines, in light of the vagueness of the amounts devoted, the value of the budget envelopes, and the changing parameters of the recurrence beyond March 31st, 2023. We are confident that we will find the solutions at the various tables SCFP, SEPB, UES-800, at the college level and among professionals.

At the moment of completing this newsletter, the Autonomous Federation of Education[1] (FAE), which represents teachers, is consulting its structures regarding any recent developments in their own negotiations. The work continues at the FTQ. Our issues are different because we represent various job categories in education, health and social services.

Our requests are reasonable and must be echoed.

We do not want temporary solutions to chronic problems.

The recognition expressed by the government through the payment of lump sums must be achieved through recurrent measures such as real enrichment for our members through wage increases and the implementation of the wage structure on the third year (improvement of the wage of lowest earners and entry wages for ranking 12 to 28, in addition to an improvement for group insurance.

We do not have to reject the March 31st deposit. We must continue to work at the negotiating tables with the firm intention of reaching a negotiated settlement in a short term. It is time for our 55,000 members in Education and Health and Social Services sector to get true recognition. In the coming weeks, we will also continue to seek mandates in our pressure tactics, which may go as far as exercising our right to strike. We are at a turning point and while we remain confident of reaching a negotiated agreement, we must prepare ourselves for any eventuality.

We will act responsibly and our absolute priority is to reach an agreement as soon as possible while collective agreements have been expired for more than a year. Our members have been on the front line for over a year now. It’s time to settle. Let’s stand together!

Marc Ranger,

FTQ Negotiator and Coordinator