80,000 Quebec nurses join public sector strike for 4 days

Public sector strikes are ramping up again this week, and now 80,000 nurses and health professionals are joining the hundreds of thousands who are already on strike.

Quebec’s largest nurses’ union, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), has launched a four-day strike as it continues negotiating a new contract with the province.

The nurses join the common front, or Front commun in French, and the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement teachers’ union on the picket lines. FIQ spokesperson Roberto Bomba thinks Quebecers undersand the need for the strike and will stand with the nurses.

“Our nurses have better things to do than be outside in the cold,” he told Daybreak.

“The government pushed us to this point.”

Even if FIQ members are on strike, they do have to maintain essential services. Bomba says this means that health-care services will be “slowed down” but that emergency rooms “won’t be affected.”

The FIQ presented the Quebec government with a counter-offer on Friday. Bomba says salaries are a major issue, but nurses want better work conditions. The Quebec government has asked nurses to stay “flexible.”

In a statement, the FIQ told CBC it had been asking for a 24 per cent increase over three years, but is now asking for 20 per cent — a 14 per cent increase over four years plus a six per cent boost for 2022.

Quebec has the lowest starting salary in Canada for nurses who obtain their university degree, according to data comparing collective agreements by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

FIQ members walked off the job for two days in early November, and says a general unlimited strike like the FAE’s is on the table if a deal isn’t reached by Christmas, said Bomba.

“No one wants to get to Christmas still at the negotiating table,” he said.

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The province’s nurses are asking for a 24 per cent raise as they join massive public sector strikes.

FIQ president Julie Bouchard said the government has been slow to negotiate, and there are about 15 points that still need to be hashed out. She says talks on work conditions like employee ratio are not advancing.

“I get the impression that there is no urgency from the government on these negotiations that are so important to us and the public,” she told Radio-Canada’s Tout un matin.

“How are there 80,000 workers, 90 per cent of them women, in the street and the government can’t speed this up? For the population to get the best health care, things need to change.”

She also blasted the government for passing Bill 15 under closure this weekend, calling the move “undemocratic.”

“Reforms that don’t take into account public health workers won’t work. That’s not what will help lower the amount of traffic in hospitals or improve health-care professionals’ work conditions,” she said.

Sacha Nelson, a respiratory therapist and FIQ union member at the CHUM, said he is picketing because he believes in the importance of quality health care.

“If it’s not a good negotiation and people don’t come back to the public health-care sector, I’m not sure it will survive for another negotiation, quite frankly,” he said.

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