The North Star


Interview with Yvan Perrier

It’s time to reflect as United Front adopts agreement

Read Time:4 Minute

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With the voting assemblies on the agreement in principle reached by the United Front now over, it's time to take stock. The intersectoral agreement, which provides for an increase of at least 17.4% over 5 years, was ratified by FTQ, CSN, CSQ and APTS members by 74.8%, a strong result that nonetheless demonstrates the absence of consensus. Sectoral agreements affecting work organization were more controversial, notably among the CSQ health federation, which rejected it by 98%.

Not to mention the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), which adopted its general agreement with 50.58% of the votes following a tumultuous process, and the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), which still seems a long way from concluding its negotiations. To better understand the impact of these negotiations on the future of both the public sector and the workers' movement, North Star spoke to Yvan Perrier, professor of political science and former union consultant for the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN).

Mr. Perrier points to notable wage gains, as "this agreement in principle allows, for the five years of the collective agreement, increases above the 2% per year dogma that has been rigorously applied by the Quebec employer-state since at least 1993."

Despite the limitations of the new agreement, he considers it to be the most advantageous in terms of wages since 1979. The disadvantage of percentage wage increases should be noted, however, as these lead to smaller increases for the lowest-paid workers. For example, a worker earning $21/hour at the start of the agreement will earn around $25/hour (an increase of $4/hour) by the end of it, while a worker earning $45/hour will be increased to almost $53.50 (an increase of $8.50/hour).

Photo credit: Renaud Labelle

Mr. Perrier points out that the inflation-indexation clause for the last three years of the agreement, which allows public-sector workers to earn an additional 1% pay raise if the cost of living rises more than expected, is a strong and unusual gain. However, "it does not allow for full indexation, as was the case in the seventies, nor is it the famous catch-up demanded by the United Front."

Looking back we can see that, overall, this agreement marks a return to better pay rises for public sector workers. Yvan Perrier recalls that since the 1990s, workers have had to face wage freezes as well as pay cuts.

Asked what enabled union members to achieve these gains, Mr. Perrier replies that "the current negotiations have shown us, on several occasions, that public opinion supports the demands of the union members. The Legault government was certainly supported in its positions by certain editorial writers, but by the end, it found itself isolated. The position it was defending was untenable. That's why he had to revise his salary offer upwards once again."

Adding to this were the actions of the workers themselves. Although the strike was gradual (unlike the strikes of the 1970s and 1980s), Yvan Perrier notes that "mobilization was remarkable in health and education."

"So, the 10-day strike by the 420,000 members of the Common Front, the unlimited general strike — which lasted 22 days — by the 66,500 members of the FAE, the nurses' work stoppages and so on... the totality of these work stoppages made it possible at the very least to put the working and pay conditions of the 650,000 unionized workers in the public and parapublic sectors on the public agenda."

And finally, all this would probably not have been possible without "the shortage of manpower and the need to attract or retain competent, qualified or experienced people, which is part of the reason why negotiated increases have been higher than the arbitrary ceiling set by the employer-state at 2% per year since at least the early 1990s".

However, according to Mr. Perrier, despite the wage gains achieved, there is still some ways to go to improve the working conditions of unionized civil servants. "These people work in services that are decisive and fundamental to our quality of life." The government has recently adopted several measures to "flexibilize" the workforce and reorganize public services, such as Bill 15 and Bill 23, which unions have opposed dispassionately. Yet these bills will diminish the power of unions, and could very well rock public sector working conditions.

If they really want to bend governments in the future, Yvan Perrier believes that "union members must stop behaving like 'stowaways' in social and political life. For a long time now, union organizations have not been able to mobilize their troops on a massive scale - as was the case in some previous decades - on issues outside the collective agreement." On the contrary, he believes that workers need to jump in with both feet on political debates and struggles.

Click here to read North Star's full interview with Yvan Perrier (French only)

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