Daycare strikes: Treasury Board president takes to Twitter to defend offer, but union disputes her math

The president of Quebec's Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel, is defending her contract offer to daycare workers as the rotating strike by CSQ union members continues for a second day.

Childcare workers who are members of a certain union, which translates as the Federation of Early Childhood Workers and is affiliated with the CSQ, were demonstrating on Wednesday in Lévis and Rouyn-Noranda as they did the day before in other cities.

Today is the second day of a rotating strike that is rolling to different regions of Quebec on different days. 

On Thursday and Friday, another union will get involved. Members of the Federation of Health and Social Services, affiliated with the CSN, will walk off the job.

For them,this will be a second and a third day of strike action.

MAIN ISSUE IS PAY, INCLUDING HOW IT'S CALCULATED

Currently, a qualified educator at a centre for early childhood earns a starting salary of $19 per hour and can go up to $25.18 per hour at the 10th and final salary step.

LeBel says the government offer would raise pay to $21.38 at the first step and $28.31 at the final step.

She wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that overall, the government is offering a 17 per cent raise.

Les éducatrices en CPE accomplissent un travail très important avec nos tout-petits et nous en sommes conscients.

Il y a un rattrapage salarial important à faire. C’est pourquoi, en juillet nous avons déposé une offre comprenant des augmentations salariales allant jusqu’à 17 %.

— Sonia LeBel (@slebel19) October 12, 2021

But since there is a shortage of educators, the government is also proposing an extension of the work week to 40-hour weeks.

At the moment, with those schedules established locally, they vary from 32 to 36 hours per week, explained Valérie Grenon, president of the FIPEQ, which is affiliated with the CSQ, in an interview Wednesday.

In the event of a 40-hour work week, the government offer would increase compensation to $ 22.27 at the first level and $ 29.20 at the 10th level, said LeBel.

Grenon said that contrary to what the government has said, she estimates the offer to be only a 12 per cent increase over three years and this would apply to qualified educators only.

All workers in childcare centers would receive increases of 2 per cent per year for three years, like other workers in the public and parapublic sectors such as kitchen and maintenance workers. 

On top of that 6 per cent over three years, Quebec would add 6 per cent the last year, "but only for trained educators," said Grenon. That's how she calculated the 12 per cent raise in their case.

But LeBel says she wants to "significantly increase the wages of educators" with the government offer. She has argued that the pay hike could reach 17 per cent in some cases.

"Her 17 per cent is wrong," Grenon replied to that idea.

She argued that the jump from 12 per cent to 17 per cent actually comes "from a $50 lump sum that they give to educators who would agree to work 40 hours a week" or more.

MORE NEWS ON STRIKE DAYS COMING THURSDAY

The dialogue is far from over, with negotiations resuming Thursday with FIPEQ.

"We are not discouraged, because we know we have the support of the population," said Grenon.

"They want to open childcare centers, and well it will take workers to work there," she argued. To attract that labour, the province will need to improve working conditions, she argued.

"'There is only the monetary" question to settle, she said.

LeBel said this is exactly what she wants to do.

"There is an important pay catch-up to do," she wrote in her Wednesday tweet. 

FIPEQ has five days to go in its strike mandate. The CSQ will decide, at the end of its day of negotiations on Thursday, if it will set other strike days or if the progress at the table seems sufficient to postpone that move.

"If we have to use them to increase the pressure, we will do it," Grenon warned.

OTHER DAYCARE STRIKES

An indefinite general strike also began on Wednesday morning in two childcare centres affiliated with the Steelworkers Union, which affiliated with the FTQ.

These are the Au Jardin de Pierrot childcare centres in Rouyn-Noranda and in Touchatouille, Port-Cartier.

Likewise, workers in childcare centres who are members of the Syndicat québécois des employees de service (SQEES), also affiliated with the FTQ, will kick off their own strikes on October 18 and 19.

They voted in favor of a 10-day strike mandate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 13, 2021.

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