Editorial: Power to the public sector

Graphic Zachary Fortier

“Guardian angels” is how Quebec Premier François Legault described healthcare workers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We heard similar sentiments towards teachers who made sure children were being educated, both online and eventually in-person, often putting their health at risk by doing so.

Now, these “guardian angels” are all without contracts and going on strike because the Coalition Avenir Quebec is failing to fairly compensate them for their work.

Teachers in Quebec remain the lowest paid across Canada, even if they’ve been working in the profession for over a decade. According to the latest salary-scale, released by the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, the base salary of a “regular teacher” has increased 15.6 per cent over eight years, from $39,291 in 2014-2015 to $46,527 today. 

This pales in comparison to the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) who was recently offered—and rejected—a 21 per cent increase over five years. On their website, the SQ 2021 starting salary is $48,386, which rises to $84,366 after five years. The SQ also increases the salary of officers every six months for the first three years, and every year after the fourth year.

Many nurses, who often have to deal with insufficient staffing and lack of beds, have reportedly been sleeping at the hospital between double or triple shifts.

At any given time, Montreal hospitals are at 80 to 200 per cent (or more) occupancy. Nearly 14,000 patients have been waiting for various surgeries for over a year, including over 4,000 in the Montreal area. An estimated 450 further delays are caused every day, that healthcare workers are on strike.

In the last few years, broken promises have led to growing anger. This includes the promise of bonuses to people to work in the healthcare system being cut, and a Quebec tribunal ordering nurses to stop threatening mass resignations.

Quebec has more than enough talent and money to be able to fill vacancies and properly compensate those who take on the exhausting work most often performed by women, particularly immigrant women of colour. 

Previous strikes by various unions have led the government enacting “back to work” legislation, and then continuing to shaft the people who were deemed heroes globally just under four years ago.

Back in 2021, Legault said "We've reached the capacity of what we can pay. So when some union leaders say 'We want more money,' well, we don't have any more money," adding that he had “been patient” with the unions for the previous year. The truth is that our essential “guardian angels” have been patient with you, Frank.

If the National Assembly is looking for extra funding, they can rescind the $30,000 salary increase they gave themselves in June 2023, or one of the other benefits that amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars for travel and “transition” allowances when they get voted out or leave politics.

If any of these politicians gave half a fuck about any of the roughly 570,000 striking workers, they would cap their own salary increases to match that of the lowest public sector employees. 

The Link stands firm in its support of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé, The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, the Common Front, and all labour unions. We applaud the fight to ensure members are paid more than subsistence wage and given protections from the abysmal working conditions far too many are subject to.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 7, published November 28, 2023.