Teachers, health-care worker hold protest over contract in Montreal and Quebec City

Several hundred public sector union members were demonstrating in Quebec City and Montreal on Wednesday to demand better offers from the Quebec government.

"Today teachers across the province of Quebec are sounding the alarm," said teacher Kathleen Usher, a representative for the Montreal Teachers' Association.

"We have been without a contract since 2019. Our government is not listening to desperate cries for help... Right now, the government is trying to increase our workload, without any further remuneration. We are already the lowest paid teachers in the country. Our special needs students need more support. We are breaking, our public schools are at the breaking point. Something has to change now."

In the late morning, Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel presented the Legault government's new offer to some 550,000 public sector employees in the health, education and public service sectors.

Quebec is prepared to increase its wage offer by one per cent, but only if inflation exceeds the five per cent over three years that it was already offering.

The 5 per cent increase represents an additional $3.3 billion, but Quebec is adding a one-time lump sum of $400 million for services rendered during difficult times.

"I’m doing it with a lot of faith, in good faith. I think this offer is fair. This offer is generous according to the situation that we are in today," she said.

The Legault government's last offers date back to May 2020, when the proposal for a 5 per cent salary increase over three years was very poorly received by the unions. Government union members have been without a contract for a year.

But the CSN and CSQ unions say the offer falls short. They want to see salaries increase beyond the cost of living and address the issue of forced overtime.

"It's not enough to say thank you in the news everywhere. Francois Legault says thank you to the workers but they need more than thank you, they need good working conditions, they need good wages," said Dominique Daignault of the CSN.

Several strike votes have been made and on Tuesday, some 10,000 CSQ teachers and support staff working in CEGEPs held a one-day walkout.

In Quebec City, protesters gathered in front of the National Assembly, while those in Montreal targeted Premier François Legault's office. Their theme was 'Sound the alarm for the public sector.'

On Tuesday night, the Administrative Labour Tribunal rejected an attempt by health network managers to prevent health union members from sounding alarms.

The tribunal ruled that union members could exercise "their right to freedom of expression" as long as they were not "activated in places where care or services are provided to users, nor in examination rooms, nor in users' rooms."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021. With files from CTV News Montreal's Matt Grillo.

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