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Anger rumbles amongst Quebec’s bus drivers, hard hit by the general rise in the cost of living. Since October 16th, sixteen school bus unions, representing 182 members, have sent strike notices to the Ministry of Labour, pointing the finger at their private employers who had hogged large government subsidies for themselves.
In February 2023, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) boosted funding for school bus companies with an injection of $112 million. Part of this sum was supposed to improve the salaries of bus drivers, whose working conditions were of growing concern. However, bus drivers had no say in how the money was spent, nor did their union representatives or the government.
Their pay, generally between $15 and $17 an hour at the start of the year according to the union, is grossly inadequate. Josée Dubée, president of the school transport sector of the Fédération des employées et employés de services publics-CSN, pointed out on November 3 that "many of the company's employees have to go to food banks every week to meet their basic needs".
Past and planned strikes in the sector thus seem to be necessary for workers to get their piece of the pie. For example, on November 13, members of the Transco Saint-Hubert-CSN workers' union accepted a tentative agreement granting them serious raises following a two-week general strike.
They will receive an average wage increase of 25.37% for the year 2022-2023. According to Frédéric Brun, acting president of the Fédération des employées et employés de services publics-CSN, this victory marks a new salary standard in the sector.
But negotiations are not finished everywhere. While negotiations stall at Pointe-Aux-Outardes, the Syndicat des chauffeurs scolaires (CSN) unanimously adopted a five-day strike mandate on November 15. Guillaume Tremblay, president of the Conseil central de la Côte-Nord-CSN, hammered home in a press release that the workers want their fair share of the subsidies that the employer has unilaterally cashed in since last spring. The 17 drivers have been without a collective agreement since June 30, 2022.
At Autobus Robert on Montreal's South Shore, the vast majority of workers have voted in favor of an indefinite strike, which will begin on November 28. Josée Dubé declared on November 10 that "the union is at the stage of negotiating wage clauses, and the employer does not intend to pay its share of the money it received from the government to improve wages."
She added that "as in almost all unions that have not yet renewed their employment contracts, the salaries currently paid are failing to attract and retain the employees needed to carry out these routes every day. And it's the children and their parents who are paying the price."
Meanwhile, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, two groups of school transport workers accepted an offer on November 15 that included significant concessions from their boss. Wage increases vary by level, ranging from 6% to 24%, retroactive to 2022. With the introduction of a recognition bonus, the hourly wage of the most senior employees has been increased to $25.
"We are very pleased to have stood by and supported the important struggle of these men and women who perform a difficult job every morning when thousands of students have to get to school," said Manon Tremblay, President of the Conseil central des syndicats nationaux du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean-CSN. "The exemplary mobilization of these drivers throughout their strike has paid off, and the members can be proud to have achieved such gains."