WORLD NEWS Unions say they're unimpressed by Legault's request for 'flexibility'

Unions say they’re unimpressed by Legault’s request for ‘flexibility’

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Government is unwilling to negotiate on the weekend despite half a million workers being on strike, they say.

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The “flexibility” Quebec Premier François Legault wants in negotiations with public-sector unions got a cold shoulder from the common front, which denounced Sunday morning the lack of urgency on the part of the government.

The inter-union common front, which includes the CSN, CSQ, APTS and FTQ, representing 420,000 government workers, is on strike until Thursday. The union group says it is ready to launch an indefinite general strike if there is no agreement with the government by the end of the year.

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The four members of the common front will meet again on Dec. 18 and 19 to take stock of the progress of negotiations.

“We, the unions, are ready to negotiate 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Dec. 19 to have an agreement in principle,” Maxime Ste-Marie, president of the Conseil provincial des affaires sociales of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. “After that, we will take the means necessary to make ourselves heard, but it is certain that after the holidays, we will have to evaluate all options. … If we have to go on an unlimited general strike after the holidays, we will do it.”

Mediators were involved in some sectoral tables over the weekend, but the common front said it is not enough.

Sectoral tables are those where working conditions other than salaries and the pension plan are negotiated, in sectors such as education and health. The parties discuss, for example, personnel movements and the organization of work.

On Wednesday, the president of the Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel, tabled a new salary offer of 12.7 per cent over five years to all state employees, but the unions found it insufficient.

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On Thursday, Legault said he was ready to be more generous “monetarily,” but he demanded more flexibility in the application of collective agreements.

The president of the Syndicat québécois des employées et employés de services (SQEES), Sylvie Nelson, strongly criticized the “flexibility” Legault asked for.

“We would have liked the employer representatives at the sectoral tables to be flexible and to negotiate on the weekend. They refused to negotiate on the weekend,” she said.

Ste-Marie agreed. “It’s a historic strike,” he said. “It is the longest strike, seven consecutive days, for a common front in the last 50 years. Despite this, there is no sense of urgency at the management level at the sectoral negotiation tables. Here, we represent health-care workers, the majority of the negotiating tables are not negotiating this weekend, it is unacceptable.”

Other strikes

Starting Monday, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ, which represents 80,000 nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists will be on strike until Thursday.

The two strikes labour actions in the health sector will lead to postponements of surgeries and other appointments.

In addition, an unlimited strike of 66,000 teachers of the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, which began on Nov. 23, has continued uninterrupted since.

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