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Nurses steadfast on pay and working conditions

Quebec unionized nurses reject “disrespectful” proposed deal

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Members of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), which represents more than 80,000 nurses, perfusionists, and respiratory therapists, have voted against the tentative collective agreement proposed by the Quebec government. The vote closed Friday, April 12 and had a remarkable turnout of 77% of members. The latest rounds of negotiation between the FIQ and the government are coming on the heels of last fall and winter's strike actions, the first for Quebec nurses since 1999.

In March, delegates of the union voted to recommend the deal to its members by a narrow margin after unanimously rejecting four previous versions. The provisions of the proposed deal included a 17.4% raise over five years—hardly a raise when compared with the rate of inflation—as well as measures of forced mobility, which many nurses have criticized as harmful to both nurses and patients

"It's like the government doesn't see us as people. They see us as just like furniture you can move around to however they like. We're human beings, and we have our expertise. We have often specialized knowledge in the units that we've worked in. That's not just something you can pick up and throw somewhere else. You would never ask a pediatrician to step in for a neurosurgeon," said Natalie Stake-Doucet, a nursing professor at Université de Montréal. 

Another nurse, Tanya (a pseudonym), told The North Star about her serious concerns about the possibility of being moved to different facilities. "If I am moved 25 kilometres to another workplace forcibly, then all they will be doing is forcing me to quit. Not everyone has a car. Many of my coworkers are mothers, and moving them 25 kilometres could completely mess up their lives in terms of childcare and even spending time with their children."

She continued, "The pay increase suggested is also disrespectful. When politicians gave themselves 30%, and police officers voted no on 21%, why should we say yes to 17.4% over five years? Not to mention they recently took away a 3.5% bonus that was supposed to make it into our next collective agreement, so the real raise is more like 13.9%. [...] I'm also confused as to why the Front Commun accepted such a poor deal [in February] after putting up such an inspiring and uniting fight. I feel bad for those workers who are stuck with that agreement."

Quebec's nurses are the lowest paid in Canada, which has only exacerbated the province's issues in retaining nurses. The FIQ attributes this largely to working conditions. Their press release following Friday's vote pointed out that "there have never been so many qualified healthcare professionals in Quebec: some 82,000 nurses, nearly 30,000 licensed practical nurses, more than 4,500 respiratory therapists, nearly a hundred clinical perfusionists. What’s missing are healthcare professionals ready to work in the public network’s difficult conditions."

FIQ President Julie Bouchard made the unusual decision to criticize the rank and file's rejection of the deal. “I was disappointed because when we have an agreement in principle in our hands and we recommend it […] it’s because we believe in it,” she said in a press conference following the vote. 

Tanya told North Star that her local union representatives did not recommend the agreement, a decision which earned respect from the local rank and files. "I trust that my local delegates are fighting for me," she said. "I unfortunately cannot say the same for the higher-up FIQ leadership. I think maybe they need to spend some more time on the front lines because they have perhaps forgotten who they are fighting for."

Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel responded on X/Twitter on Saturday, indicating that the government would continue to press for "flexibility" from nurses.

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