Tens of thousands of health-care workers across Quebec hit the picket line early Wednesday as part of a two-day strike action to demand better working conditions.
About 80,000 nurses, licensed practical nurses and respiratory therapists are among the latest public sectors workers to walk off the job amid failed contract talks. Essential services like emergency rooms are maintained, however.
The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ) is negotiating separately from other union federations that are working together and known as the common front.
“We have reached the limit,” Jennie Rhee, who heads the nurses’ union at the McGill University Health Centre that is affiliated with the FIQ. “Our working conditions are deplorable; they are not safe for the public.
“It’s not just about remuneration. It’s about safety.”
Late last month, Quebec Treasury Board Chair Sonia LeBel outlined a new offer for public sector workers. It includes salary increases of 10.3 per cent over five years, a one-time payment of $1,000 to each worker in the first year of the contract and more money for shift workers like nurses who work nights and weekends.
The offer was roundly rejected by the common front and other unions, including the FIQ. Among the sticking points for the health-care workers include higher salary, better working conditions and lower worker-to-patient ratios.
Rhee says it’s “not abnormal” for an emergency room nurses to have “20 patients under her charge” — forcing some to leave overpacked ERs.
“It’s not safe. Emergency room patients are leaving without being seen or evaluated,” Rhee said. “It’s unacceptable.”
LeBel addressed the strike at the provincial legislature Wednesday morning. She said the government is “working to better the services for the population the goal of this negotiation is to make sure services are improved by the end of it.”
Nurses and other health-care workers’ two-day strike will continue Thursday. The FIQ also announced another 48-hour walkout for Nov. 23 and Nov.24.
“It’s very important right now that the government recognize what we are doing and that they start treating us like professionals,” said Geraldine Morency-Laflamme, a nurse on the picket line.
Earlier this week, members of four major public sector unions in Quebec walked off the job for one day and have promised to strike again between Nov. 21 and Nov. 23. Meanwhile, the FAE union, which represents some 65,000 Quebec elementary and high school teachers, has said it will launch an unlimited general strike on Nov. 23.
— with files from Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.