Public-sector contract talks: Front commun looks ahead to unlimited general strike

Faced with a government that is still completely unreceptive after almost a year of contract talks, all of the unions making up the Front commun have decided to seek a mandate for strike action, including an unlimited general strike. To obtain this mandate, the unions will be holding multiple general assemblies beginning September 18.

At these assemblies, the 420,000 members of the CSN, CSQ, FTQ and APTS will vote democratically by secret ballot on a resolution providing the unions with a mandate to initiate strike action up to and including an unlimited general strike, which would be preceded by a series of strike actions. The general assemblies will take place from September 18 to October 13, 2023.

“In spite of multiple bargaining sessions, strong Front commun pressure, and mobilization actions carried out by workers throughout Québec over the past months, it’s clear that the government just won’t listen to us,” said representatives of the Front commun. Speaking with one voice, CSN first vice-president François Enault, CSQ president Éric Gingras, FTQ president Magali Picard, and APTS president Robert Comeau stated that as a consequence, “we have no choice but to seek a strike mandate so that we can make progress at the bargaining table. Above all, this mobilization is something that belongs to the workers we represent – the demands we’re putting forward are theirs.” The spokespersons also emphasized the historic nature of the Front commun’s strike movement, which is without precedent over the past 50 years.

Getting poorer by more than 7%

For the past nine months, the government has stubbornly maintained its offer of a 9% pay increase over five years, even though real and anticipated inflation rates from 2022 to 2027 come to a total of 16.4%. In other words, the government is proposing that over time, the 420,000 workers represented by the Front commun should become poorer by 7.4%.

The Front commun is sharply critical of the government’s arrogance, especially given that last spring, it deliberately chose to provide MNAs with an immediate 30% pay increase with additional raises to follow on a yearly basis. “The government argues that this raise is justified by problems of attraction and retention – but those problems are just as bad, or even worse, in our public services,” said the Front commun spokespersons. “You might almost think the government has no consideration for the people who make our health, social service and educational institutions work.” The same holds true for conditions of work and practice: the government has no interest in solutions other than its own.

“If the government wants to be an employer of choice, as it claims, that should be reflected in its offers,” said the Front commun representatives. “Instead, we’re actually facing a number of attacks. One of these involves our pension plan – the government is proposing detention measures that would force our members to work for a longer period to counteract the labour shortage – and another is the refusal to renew a number of premiums and other sums given to workers beyond September 30, 2023. If the government were offering real improvements, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

National demonstration on September 23

While the assemblies are taking place, a major demonstration will be held on September 23 in Montréal. “This demonstration will bring workers together, but also Quebecers in general,” said the spokespersons. “Everyone is invited to come and tell the government that we care about public services and that we won’t let it inflict further damage on our health care, social services, schools, and institutions of higher education. We all have children, parents, and loved ones who benefit from these valuable services. Unless the government understands this, the fall may be explosive.”

Public-sector bargaining talks: an update as summer begins

Front commun representatives met with the media on Tuesday morning to take stock of public-sector contract talks as summer begins.

“Unions have brought solutions to the bargaining table – despite what the Treasury Board president has implied – and we expect those solutions to be part of the discussion,” said first CSN vice-president François Enault, CSQ president Éric Gingras, APTS president Robert Comeau and FTQ president Magali Picard. “The government can’t just decide to discuss only its own priorities. We want to reach an agreement quickly, but not at any cost. We hope the conversation will pick up the pace over the summer, with accelerated exchanges at the bargaining tables.”

Union leaders also wanted to talk about their members’ mobilization. “Over the past weeks, we’ve had a lot of discussions about intensifying mobilization,” they noted. “All over Québec, Front commun colours have been highly visible in workplaces, at festive events, in front of riding offices, when we’ve welcomed ministers coming for a visit, and so on. But mobilization will become a very different thing when summer ends, because Front commun unions have been given a unanimous mandate to plan for the strategic use of strike action. We’ve been working on this for several weeks now.”

The Front commun believes it is high time for exchanges at the bargaining tables to take a different turn. At the moment, the Treasury Board’s pay offer still involves a 9% increase over five years, even though the inflation rate for 2022 alone was 6.7%.

“Let’s be serious. The government is trying to cast us as antagonists, but the reality is that the state of our public services requires ambitious solutions and openness to workers’ proposals. This should be reflected in exchanges at the bargaining table.”

To stop the exodus of workers from Québec’s public services, the Front commun wants better working conditions that will attract and retain staff in schools, health and social services, and higher education. Meanwhile, the government is moving in the opposite direction with its frontal attacks on the RREGOP (Government and Public Employees Retirement Plan), which may well push a significant proportion of people nearing retirement towards the exit – even though our pension plan is in good financial health, and constitutes one of the rare advantages of the public sector when compared to the private sector.

“If the Legault government was looking for another way to make our members angry, it’s definitely found it!”

Union leaders were quick to point out that we should not underestimate union members’ determination and ability to mobilize. “They’ve seen it all before. It’s the same old story, and right now, all the government is doing is causing discontent. The Front commun was formed as a response to the government’s divisive strategies, which are hurting our public services. What we really need is a long-term social vision that would take us beyond the process of haggling at the bargaining table. But there’s no such thing. It’s really sad. That’s what we want to say to people about our public services.”

Province-wide demonstration on September 23

The Front commun is organizing a province-wide march in Montréal on September 23. All Quebecers are invited to join. “If you’re affected either directly or indirectly, if you know people working in our system, if you want to show that you support our struggle and that you value Québec’s public services, that will be the time to say so loud and clear. We need every single one of you to make your voice heard!”

Front commun demands

In terms of pay, the Front commun is demanding a permanent annual indexing clause based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), as well as a general catchup pay increase.

  • For 2023: an increase of $100 per week for all workers OR CPI + 2% (whichever is more beneficial)
  • For 2024: CPI + 3%
  • For 2025: CPI + 4%

The Front commun is also bringing various other issues to the central bargaining table, including demands relating to:

  • retirement,
  • parental rights,
  • regional disparities,
  • group insurance, and whistleblowers.

Info-Nego: as temperatures rise this spring, we’re ready to jump into the heat of the action

An impressive gathering of 2,000 or so activists took place in Québec City on March 30 at an historic rally of the Front commun. Standing together as one, they talked about what’s happening with the contract talks and about stepping up the pace of mobilization.

The rally brought together workers from the health and social service system, the school sector and higher education, members of the CSN (Confédération des syndicats nationaux), the CSQ (Centrale des syndicats du Québec), the FTQ (Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec) and the APTS (Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux). They related their own individual experiences, while discussing their common ground and considering strategies and pressure tactics to be used in the months ahead. Throughout the day, speakers stressed the need for a strong and broad mobilization.

During lunch, the activists gathered outside the National Assembly to remind the CAQ government that its offers are nowhere near acceptable and that it should be offering its employees more than a plan to make them poorer. The coming weeks will see an upswing in mobilization.

An update on the march 27 “proposal” and the end of the forums

On March 27, Treasury Board representatives announced a proposed “third offer” at the central bargaining table. In the Front commun’s view, this isn’t
really a new proposal, but rather a document that clarifies certain aspects of the government’s offers in December 2022 – clarifications that were requested months ago! The wage offer remains the same and the plan to make workers poorer is unfortunately still on the table. This “proposal” still doesn’t allow for real gains that would deliver the overall catch-up pay increase we called for.

As for its attempt to transfer the discussions outside the bargaining tables, the government had no choice but to drop its efforts. Last week, Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel announced that the forums would not be held. The issues will be discussed at the bargaining tables, just as they should be.

Coordinated filing of essential service lists

This week, for the first time since the introduction of the essential service legislation, the unions in the health and social service sector, members of the CSN, the CSQ, the FTQ and the APTS, will file their lists of essential services simultaneously with their respective employers.

This coordinated filing of lists with all the health and social service employers is a symbolic gesture, a concrete affirmation of the unwavering solidarity of the members of the Front commun in the current round of contract talks.

This mandatory step is actually a first step toward obtaining the right to strike. The law requires these lists to be filed with the employer at least 90 days before a union can go on strike. Although the filing of these lists does not signal that a strike is imminent (several other legal deadlines must be met), it ensures that we will be ready in case strike action becomes necessary. In that event, you will have a chance to make your views known at a general assembly.

Public-sector contract talks: Front commun demands better pay for women employed in public services

On International Women’s Rights Day, about a hundred activists belonging to the Front commun – 78% of whose members are women – gathered before the Treasury Board Secretariat. As discussions on pay increases to be included in future collective agreements got underway at the bargaining table, their goal was to send the Legault government a strong message: “Together as one, we’re resisting by demanding better pay and better working conditions.”

The Front commun members’ public action was a fierce criticism of the offer submitted by Sonia LeBel, Treasury Board Secretary and former minister responsible for the status of women, to women and men providing services to Quebecers – an offer that will inevitably make them poorer. The government expects inflation to reach 16.6% over the next five years, according to its latest economic update, and yet it’s offering a pay increase of only 9% for the same period. When public sector salaries are allowed to lag behind, the people getting poorer are mostly women.

Front commun spokespersons expressed strong opposition to the government’s stance. “When we look at the conditions in which women are working to provide Quebecers with education, care, and services, all we can say is that in 2023, we still have a long way to go to reach full recognition,” said FTQ president Magali Picard, 1st CSN vice-president François Enault, CSQ president Éric Gingras and APTS president Robert Comeau. “The government is asking these women – again – to tighten their belts, at a time when inflation is hitting them as hard as it’s hitting everyone else. They really have cause to rise up in protest. The government wants to balance the budget and cut taxes at the expense of women represented by the Front commun – and we’re here to tell them that’s not going to work.”

To ensure genuine recognition for public-sector jobs, the Front commun is calling for a mechanism that will permanently protect workers against inflation, as well as a general catch-up pay increase to provide real gains. For 2023, this means either an additional $100 per week or the Consumer Price Index (CPI) + 2%, whichever is most beneficial. The demand for 2024 is the CPI + 3%, and for 2025, the CPI + 4%.

The clock is ticking

The Front commun’s symbolic action took place in a context where public-sector workers’ collective agreements are due to expire on March 31. To emphasize this deadline, the Front commun has begun a countdown on social media to remind the Treasury Board president that it’s time to negotiate. Union activists from the CSN, CSQ, FTQ and APTS will gather in Québec City on March 30 to take stock of current bargaining talks and discuss upcoming mobilization activities associated with the renewal of public-sector collective agreements.

“Time is running out. Our public services need to breathe,” said the Front commun spokespersons. “Our members have approved proposals to end the labour shortage in schools, higher education, and health and social services. We’re asking the government to be active at the bargaining tables, to do the work required, and to listen to proposals put forward by the people who are in the best position to know what our public services need.”

Some facts and figures to clarify the issues at the bargaining table
  • Average salary of Front commun public-sector employees: $43,916
  • Wage lag: -11.9%
  • Overall compensation lag: -3.9%
  • Percentage of workers represented by the Front commun who are women: 78%

For more information about the contract talks:

The Front commun

Together, the CSN, CSQ, FTQ and APTS represent over 420,000 public-sector workers who are employed by the Québec government in schools, health and social services, and higher education.

Who’s not available at the bargaining tables? The government, that’s who

Health minister Christian Dubé last week accused “the unions” of not coming to bargaining tables. This is a falsehood, and one that sends a very bad signal for future bargaining sessions. Unions have been ready and willing to negotiate from the very beginning of the process. The government is the party that’s refusing to make itself available.

I have an excellent collaboration with Sonia LeBel […] We’re making joint efforts […] Ms. LeBel and her team […]
are doing an extraordinary job, but they need to have people facing them […] I’m asking employees to say to their unions, right now: Please go to the bargaining tables.
– Christian Dubé, February 15, 2023

Let’s make this clear: labour organizations are present, both at sectoral tables and at the central bargaining table. And discussions, in fact, started in January. But the reality is that our counterparts on the employer side are refusing to broaden their availability, and have rejected a number of the dates we suggested for meetings. At some tables, the government is offering four hours every two weeks to push negotiations forward. And scheduling
meetings more than two weeks in advance is proving difficult. At this rate, bargaining will go on forever and we’ll still be at the tables in 2026.

The Front commun urges the government to stop focusing on public relations and to clear its agenda so that we can negotiate “seriously, actively, and rapidly,” as Sonia LeBel so aptly put it on January 11. In other words: please be consistent.

The Front commun is also asking the government to move quickly to bring concrete proposals to the tables so that progress can be made over the next weeks. For our part, we’re ready to suggest many solutions that will improve pay and working conditions and help us meet the challenges we’re facing collectively in schools, health and social services, and higher education.

Discussions are under way

Discussions at the central bargaining table started in January, and there have been four meetings so far. Front commun spokespersons have asked their
government counterparts for clarifications regarding the offers they tabled in December, and have started to present some of our proposals. The government has also asked questions about our demands. This is a stage we need to go through before we can get to the heart of the matter. We hope the government will now be willing to negotiate rapidly and seriously.

Stay tuned – we’ll keep you posted on discussions as they evolve.

Front commun reacts to government offers: Making public service workers poorer is worst possible option

“We’re in the middle of an unprecedented labour crisis in the public sector, combined with historically high inflation, and what is the government doing? It’s basically proposing to impoverish the men and women – chiefly women, as it happens – who bear the full weight of providing public services.” This was the response of Front commun spokespersons François Enault, first vice-president of the CSN, Éric Gingras, president of the CSQ, Daniel Boyer, president of the FTQ, and Robert Comeau, president of the APTS, on learning of the CAQ government’s offers.


 In its offers made this morning to the Front commun unions, the government proposed paltry increases of 3% for the first year and 1.5% for the subsequent years of a 5-year contract. With no measures included to protect purchasing power, the government is simply ignoring today’s skyrocketing inflation rates. As for the proposed $1,000 lump sum, it’s an insult to the women and men who keep the public sector afloat – a one-time payment that won’t be factored into the calculation of retirement income or vacation time. This is not a productive solution to the labour shortage.

Not only is the government’s wage offer lower than what the private sector will be offering, but it will actually make workers poorer since the government’s own forecast puts the inflation rate well above its proposed pay increases. It is projecting an inflation rate of 6.8% in 2022, which means that its offer of 3% in the first year will not shield workers from cost-of-living increases.

“If the government takes public services seriously, why isn’t it doing something about the failing state of the whole public sector?” the Front commun spokespersons asked pointedly.  “Why is it offering public sector workers so little when it knows full well that other workers will get higher wage increases? The last two years of the pandemic have starkly demonstrated what’s wrong with the public service sector. By putting the prospect of such dismal working conditions on the table, the government is choosing to perpetuate the labour shortage and all the problems that come with it,” they added.

It is worth noting that overall compensation of public service workers trails that of other Québec workers by 3.9%. Looking exclusively at wages, that gap widens to 11.9%.

“Given those numbers, how likely is it that people will choose public sector employment over jobs with better conditions? Public service employees should not be made to pay once again for the economic recovery or the fight against inflation,” the spokespersons said. “Should our members – 78% of whom are women – be expected to tighten their belts yet again in the name of economic recovery? If the government is serious about a long-term approach to providing Quebecers with public services, it will have to go back to the drawing board and rethink its offers.”

The Front commun is demanding a permanent measure to protect workers against inflation as well as a general catch-up increase that will offer them some real gains. For 2023, this means either a $100-per-week increase or an increase based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) + 2%, depending on which formula is most beneficial. The demand for 2024 is a CPI + 3% increase, and for 2025, CPI + 4%.

Retirement issues

 Rules around retirement, one of the few aspects of public-sector employment that remains attractive, are also under fire by the government, which wants to force people who have worked for 35 years to wait until the age of 57 to retire. “This is not retention – ‘detention’ would be a better word – and there’s good reason to fear a mass exodus as people scramble to leave before the policy takes effect,” said the union spokespersons. On the other hand, the Front commun welcomes the government’s response to union demands for keeping experienced employees in the public system on a voluntary basis.

The government is also attacking the Government and Public Employees Retirement Plan (RREGOP), another employee benefit that is at least somewhat successful in retaining people who have worked in the public system for many years. The government’s proposal is to reduce the RREGOP pension, on the pretext that Québec Pension Plan benefits have recently increased. “The government is giving with one hand but trying to take away with the other, claiming it’s being too generous,” said the spokespersons.

Management and inter-union forums

The government is back with the idea of setting up forums that would operate alongside bargaining tables, even though this plan was unanimously rejected by unions during the last round of contract talks.

Working conditions and conditions of practice

 With respect to working conditions, the Front commun will also carefully weigh the offers to be presented at the various sectoral bargaining tables before the holidays. “A substantial investment is needed if we want to see concrete, long-term improvements in the public school and health and social service systems as well as in higher education,” said the spokespersons. “The government can’t just choose to impose setbacks of a sort that will ruin people’s working conditions. It’s inconceivable, and runs contrary to the widespread recognition of the problems affecting public services. If the government wants to get back to being an employer of choice as it claims, it will really have to pull out all the stops to reverse current trends. Because the future of public services is at stake.”

A few facts and figures on the issues at the bargaining table

  • Average salary of Front communpublic-sector employees: $43,916
  • Wage lag: -11.9%
  • Overall compensation lag: -3.9%
  • Percentage of workers represented by the Front commun who are women: 78%

For more information about the contract talks:

The Front commun

Together, the CSN, CSQ, FTQ and APTS represent over 420,000 public-sector workers who are employed by the Québec government in schools, health and social services, and higher education, and whose collective agreements are set to expire on March 31, 2023.

Public-sector contract talks: “Together as one” | The Front commun tables its demands

The Front commun presented its demands to the Treasury Board today, at the start of a new round of bargaining talks for the renewal of public-sector collective agreements.

“Our message to the government is clear,” said CSN vice-president François Enault, CSQ president Éric Gingras, APTS president Robert Comeau and FTQ president Daniel Boyer as they emerged from the Treasury Board this morning. “We’re together as one, and we’re demanding pay and working conditions reflecting the value of the services we provide for Quebecers.”

“Today is an important moment for the 420,000 workers we represent in education, health, social services and higher education as we start the process of negotiating their work contracts,” said the union leaders. “Working conditions have gotten a lot worse over the years, and wages are now truly inadequate. Our priority is to provide quality services and contribute to Quebecers’ well-being. But there’s no way of doing this without resources – and without enough people to do the job.”

Defined through an extensive consultation process with union members, Front commun demands focus on achieving pay increases and protecting employees’ purchasing power through a permanent hedge against inflation.

Specifically, the Front commun pay demands are as follows:

  • For 2023: a $100-a-week increase for all employees OR application of a permanent annual indexation mechanism based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) plus a 2% increase, depending on which formula is the most beneficial.
  • For 2024: application of a permanent annual indexation mechanism based on the CPI, plus a 3% increase.
  • For 2025: application of a permanent annual indexation mechanism based on the CPI, plus a 4% increase.

In addition to pay, the Front commun is presenting demands relating to:

  • retirement,
  • parental rights,
  • regional disparities, and
  • group insurance.

Front commun unions represent women and men who take pride in their whole-hearted work, and as the unions point out, these workers are part of Quebecers’ everyday lives. Not a week goes by without some mention in the public space of their difficult working conditions or the labour shortage that is having a major impact on services provided for Quebecers.

“It’s time to take concrete action, and bargaining talks are the only way for us to move forward,” say union leaders. “Better working conditions and better pay are urgently needed. We hope these contract talks will be taken seriously – given our situation, they’re a serious matter. The ball is now in the government’s court.”

 The Front commun

The Front commun consists of four labour organizations – the CSN (Confédération des syndicats nationaux), CSQ (Centrale des syndicats du Québec), FTQ (Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec) and APTS (Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux) – that have come together for the 2023 public-sector bargaining talks. These organizations represent over 420,000 public-sector workers who are employed by the Québec government in education, health, social services, and higher education, and whose collective agreements are due to expire on March 31, 2023.

For more information, see