Barring some urgency, strike as deadline approaches could damage Quebec’s image as a safe haven
Thousands of Quebec daycares closed on Thursday in what is set to be the biggest protest yet against the Liberal government’s handling of public services.
Schools, hospitals, buses and hospitals were also affected by a general strike which closed more than 600 daycares across the province, shutting down the province’s most famous child care centres.
Early strikes began at pharmacies on Tuesday and an estimated 5,000 workers rallied on Wednesday. Union leaders said some 350,000 would be out on Thursday and more could be expected later this week, when demands for a seven-year contract start to be met.
“We told them we’d walk out, in a collective action,” Jacques Paquette, a striking pharmacist, told Radio-Canada. “We will not put up with the choices of our political masters,” he said, referring to the government’s initial refusal to reopen talks and a new offer of four years’ pay increases, which union leaders described as inadequate.
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Talks between the government and the 13,000-strong CUPE union broke down in July after the government refused to offer a wage increase of 2.3% annually and at a time when inflation is running at nearly 3%. There is growing anger in Quebec, the most indebted province in Canada, that 12,000 public sector workers who struck in April failed to secure a better deal.
Claude Béchard, a striking at both a pharmacy and a public library, said the government was, in effect, demanding that workers sacrifice the essential to secure a wage hike.
“You can’t say no to money from the government and not give the workers what they want,” he said. “We want a fair pay raise and better working conditions.”
A strike is unlikely to have much of an economic impact in Quebec, which is in the midst of a construction boom. In the area in front of the cancer hospital at Old Montreal, traffic was heavier than usual. Nearby, taxis and taxicabs in red livery plates were turning down business from private clients because some of their drivers are part of the union.
“For now, the strike is not affecting us, but if it continues it will,” said one taxi driver, who would not give his name. “It’s one of the toughest times in the history of Quebec’s taxi drivers because of the drop in demand for the service.”
The emergency room at the Hôpital Universitaire Saint-Jérôme was operating normally and they expected no major problems, spokesman Claude Bodziony said.
“We’re trying to be here as long as we can without bringing anything here to get in any trouble,” Bodziony said.
Michel Feinstien, a spokesperson for the Quebec Labour Ministry, said schools will operate as usual, only the students will be absent. He did not rule out school principals informing parents that children might not be able to return on Thursday.
Quebec unions have until noon to return to the table in the latest round of wage negotiations. So far the union has been unable to file a grievance.
Quebecers are clearly angered by their government’s business-as-usual approach and have said they would risk losing their jobs to make their point. They regularly flood the streets to protest against the Liberal government which was elected in 2014 with a majority.
A planned demonstration on Tuesday was cancelled due to threats of a government crackdown on protesters.