“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%.
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: https://www.frontcommun.org/.
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.