A flag of the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation is waved in front of the Quebec Bridge.

The agreement in principle concluded with Quebec was rejected by 61% by the members of the FIQ in April. (Archive photo)

Photo: Radio-United States / Sylvain Roy Roussel

The most recent news does not bode well for the resumption of negotiations between the government and the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ). An agreement in principle was reached on March 19, but the members ignored their union’s recommendation: 61% of them rejected the text.

Last Monday, at the end of a new consultation carried out with its approximately 80,000 nurses, practical nurses, respiratory therapists and perfusionists, the FIQ presented the five priorities she has retained for the future. Thursday, François Legault affirmed that the government will not back down from its demands to obtain more flexibility from its employees. Friday, a report from The U.S. Press told us that a colossal gap separates the parties, by the admission of the employer negotiators.

No negotiation session is planned for the moment, as the government wishes to take a step back to study the union’s demands. And even if we take a lot of time, it is difficult to see what compromise can be found.

Everyone has their own diagnosis

For the FIQ, the current problems of the health network are largely due to the poor working conditions of its members. For the CAQit is rather the rigidity and intransigence of the unions which would be the cause.

At the heart of the dispute: staff mobility. The government wants to broaden the definition of activity centers to be able to move its employees more easily from one department to another and thus meet its labor needs. The union opposes this, arguing that its members each have their own specialty and that they are not interchangeable.

The entire government negotiation strategy is, however, based on a simple principle: higher salary increases than usual, in exchange for concessions on the organization of work. The teachers of the FAE and some CSQ, for example, have accepted that the date on which classes are allocated be brought forward, in order to better plan the start of the school year. The 120,000 employees of the health network, represented by the FSSSCSNfor their part, have accepted a certain mobility of staff.

People demonstrate with flags of the Autonomous Education Federation.

The agreement in principle between the FAE and Quebec was narrowly accepted in February. (Archive photo)

Photo: The U.S. Press / Jacques Boissinot

However, the members of the FIQ do not intend to give in on the issue of mobility, but they still want to obtain the increases of 17.4% over five years granted to other union members. We also want the 3.5% salary bonus, granted during the pandemic, to be sustained, in addition to the increase already negotiated.

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In government, we consider it unthinkable to grant the FIQ the same salary increases as those paid to other unions, without concession on the issue of mobility. The unions which have already signed would take a very dim view that the FIQ receives the same salary increases as them without making the compromises they had to make.

Added to this is the question of part-time employees. In order to encourage full-time work, the government and the FIQ had agreed to offer financial incentives to those who agreed to work full time, such as the modulation of certain bonuses based on the number of hours worked. There FIQ is now asking for the working conditions of part-time members to be improved, which could attenuate the effect of the measures negotiated to encourage full-time work.

Everyone in their own corner

Even before the talks officially began, more than a year ago, it was already known that the negotiations would be difficult. Prime Minister Legault launched hostilities by publicly attacking the president of the FIQ. And the union’s tone, both during its public outings and in its communications with its members, did not invite compromise.

Over the months, everyone has raised expectations. The government has laid the foundations for a major reform, intended to resolve once and for all the problems of access to care. Santé Québec has now been officially created and its new president appointed, but this organization still needs to be given the necessary levers so that it can carry out its mandate. According to Minister Christian Dubé, this involves, among other things, more flexible collective agreements.

There FIQ, for its part, did not skimp on the means to mobilize its members, with the results that we know. Energized by the speeches of its leaders, the union members did not want the compromises that were offered to them. With regard to the notion of mobility in particular, the distrust, instilled during the negotiations, does not seem to be dissipating.

However, both parties have an interest in reaching an agreement without too much delay. Down in the polls and dragging a heavy deficit of 11 billion dollars, the government cannot afford to see its new reform aborted, for lack of agreement with a union as important as that of nurses. We will need results, and quickly!

There FIQ, for its part, has lost its momentum. The union leadership was weakened by the rejection of the agreement in principle, and the movement of support for the unions, which we witnessed last fall, has faded since the major unions reached an agreement with the government .

For now, however, there is no sign of a quick settlement.

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