Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Pontiac public service workers on strike

Province may offer higher wages in exchange for ‘flexibility’ from nurses, teachers

Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Shawville Nov. 21, 2023
Nancy Dufault has been working as a medical secretary at the Pontiac Hospital for 34 years.
Her work involves a long list of responsibilities, including booking appointments and making sure the doctors have all the documentation, like bloodwork and X-rays, that they need for seeing their patients.
She said it is work she feels is valued by her co-workers and the doctors she works for, but not by the provincial government.
“When I started here 34 years ago I had a beautiful paycheck. It was something to be proud of. Now, our salary hasn’t evolved with everything else,” Dufault said.
In her three decades of work, her pride in the service she provides has not wavered, but she said her pay no longer reflects her value.
Today, she makes $25 an hour, a wage bracket she attained years ago and that has not budged since.
Dufault, and about 300 other healthcare workers employed by CISSSO in the region, including cleaners, technicians, and personal support staff, stood outside the Pontiac Hospital for three days last week, trying to change this.
They were among the 570,000 educators, healthcare and social service workers on strike across the province last week, demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
Healthcare workers and teachers represented by unions in the Common Front alliance were on the picket line from Nov. 21 to Nov. 23.
On Thursday, nurses from the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) joined those already on picket lines for their own two-day strike, and teachers represented by the FAE union began an unlimited strike, bumping the number of workers on strike from 420,000 to 570,000 province-wide.
In a statement issued by the Common Front on Thursday, the unions said that day’s labour action was the largest in this country’s history.
Their statement also noted that 450,000 of the 570,000 people on the picket lines were women.

While all workers represented by unions with Common Front returned to work on Nov. 24, including CISSSO workers and most Pontiac teachers, the 66,000 education workers represented by FAE are continuing their indefinite general strike this week.
Emergency services not affected
In an email to THE EQUITY, CISSSO said emergency and intensive care services were not affected by the strike, but that the strike would “undoubtedly slow down certain services.”
According to CISSSO, several appointments had to be postponed, including imaging, blood collection and vaccination appointments.
The healthcare provider also said the nurses’ strike postponed 18 surgeries across the Outaouais and delayed the scheduling of 12 surgeries.
Teachers and education workers with both English and French school boards in the Pontiac region were also on strike, shutting down all schools in the region for three days last week.
The walk-out followed a one-day strike on Nov. 6, which was planned to signal to the province that unions were not satisfied with the offers the provincial government was bringing to the bargaining table in contract negotiations that have lasted months.
“That didn’t seem to make any effect so we are in the middle of a three day strike,” said Thomas Pace, the delegate representing health care and social service workers with the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) union in the Pontiac region.
He works in the kitchen at the Pontiac Hospital when he is not tied up in union duties.
“This strike can realistically be called off at any moment if the government is willing to give us a fair offer,” he said.
Part of the frustrations felt by the healthcare workers on strike last week was that they do not feel they have been adequately compensated for the services they provided throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Throughout the whole covid we were here, just like the nurses and housekeeping, but we weren’t considered essential. It was only the nurses,” Dufault said.
“We love the nurses, definitely, but we’re all a team. Everybody worked through it. Everybody got up in the morning and did what we had to do. And the government never even acknowledged that.”
Wanda Lance, from Calumet Island, works as a medical secretary for the hospital’s surgeons. She echoed Dufault’s frustrations.
“I don’t think people realize how hard we work. We work hard, and I don’t think we’re paid enough for what we do,” she said.
Province asks for flexibility
On Thursday, Premier François Legault told reporters in Montreal that his government would consider increasing wages if, in exchange, unions would support more staffing and scheduling flexibility, the Montreal Gazette reported.
“There’s no way we can improve efficiency or services to the population if we don’t get this flexibility,” Legault said.
At the time, the province’s offer sat at a 10.3 per cent salary increase over five years. Added benefits, as well as a one-time $1,000 payment to each worker in the first year of their contract would bring this increase to 14.8 per cent over five years for some workers, but not all.
This offer was first made at the end of October, and has not changed since.
Alfonso Ibarra is president of the Conseil central des syndicats nationeaux de l’outaouais-CSN, the local chapter of one of the unions representing public sector workers across the province including the CISSSO workers on strike in the Pontiac.
“It’s an offer we salute. It’s great to see the government finally improving its offer, but the offers are still not good enough, in our opinion, because there’s a big salary catch up to be done,” Ibarra said.
He said the unions will not consider an offer that does not keep purchasing power in line with inflation, which he said would mean a 20 per cent wage increase, almost twice as high as what is currently on the table.
“So we’re still far from what we’re looking for as a union,” he said.
Ibarra said he is not trying to be alarmist, but knows there are many members waiting to see the results of the negotiations to decide whether or not they will leave the public sector.
“If we don’t get a significant increase, a lot of workers will leave the service,” he said, adding that while doctors and nurses are often considered essential, the medical secretaries, cleaners and cooks that power the hospitals are also critical to it’s operation.
“Without these people the system could not work.”
Ibarra said if there is no agreement in the coming weeks, members of the Common Front union alliance will move to an unlimited general strike, but did not indicate when exactly they might do this.

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