Quebec’s biggest nurses’ union rejects government deal | CBC News

It’s back to the negotiating table for the Quebec government and the provinces’ largest nurses’ union, Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), after union members voted against the tentative contract deal negotiators for each party struck last month.

In March, negotiators on behalf of the FIQ, which represents some 80,000 nurses, practical nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists, recommended that its members vote to accept the agreement and members took part in a three-day referendum vote to make a decision.

But after 15 months of negotiations, the two sides have failed to finalize the deal, with 61 per cent of union members turning it down.

According to the union’s Facebook page, just over three-quarters of union members took part in the vote.

At a news conference on Saturday, FIQ president Julie Bouchard said that the high turnout and majority disapproval means the members felt the agreement was “insufficient” and are determined to see their working conditions improve.

Although admitting she was personally disappointed that the deal she recommended was rejected, Bouchard said she is ready to return to the bargaining table.

A man stands in front of a microphone.
FIQ president Julie Bouchard said the majority disapproval means that the members felt the agreement was ‘insufficient.’ (CBC)

Bouchard said that the union leadership will first consult with its members to pinpoint the exact reasons why they turned down the agreement and regroup.

She also said pressure tactics will remain on the table.

“We already had in our pocket a strike mandate that could go all the way to an unlimited general strike,” said Bouchard, but she added that a strike will only happen if that’s what members call for.

In a press release, the union said that its members are fed up with a “completely disorganized health-care system” and want to “break a culture that asks to make more with less.”

Treasury Board insists on ‘flexibility’ 

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia Lebel, said negotiations will be revisited.

“We are going to meet with the union to understand what the stumbling blocks are. However, the context and our objectives will remain the same, particularly in terms of flexibility.”

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé also said the government would continue discussions with the health-care workers.

“We will continue to make the necessary changes to improve our health network and become an employer of choice,” he said on X.

For the FIQ, some of the sticking points have been the government’s insistence on “flexibility,” the power to shift nurses to different care units or health establishments depending on the need. The union has also raised issues about compulsory overtime and the recognition of nurses’ seniority who have worked with private agencies.

Parti Québécois health critic Joël Arseneau said the government needs to show some flexibility itself in dealing with the nurses in order to keep them working in the health-care system.

“We cannot foresee rebuilding the public health system without the nurses,” Arseneau said. “We need the government to negotiate with them an agreement that will please them, help them cope with family responsibilities and [their] professional work.”

Woman wearing black-framed glasses answering questions from reporters.
Quebec’s Treasury Board president, Sonia LeBel, said she would meet with the union to understand why they voted against the agreement. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

No deal for other pubic sector unions

Earlier this year, following months of protests, Quebec’s common front of public sector unions, known as the Front commun, which represents about 420,000 public sector heath-care and education workers,ratified a deal with the government.

The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which represents 66,500 teachers in Quebec, also voted in favour of a deal in February.

However, there are other unions who have yet to reach agreements with Quebec.

The Fédération de la santé du Québec (FSQ-CSQ), which has 5,600 auxiliary nurses and respiratory therapists plying their trade in several regions of the province. It will resume negotiations next week. 

The Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ), a union that represents government experts, and the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ), which mainly represents workers at the Ministry of Transport, are also without a deal.

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