MONTREAL – The vast majority of Quebec schools were closed Wednesday as more than 400,000 government workers took to the streets to protest lagging contract talks with the province.
Teachers, health-care workers and civil servants were among those off the job — with most schools and junior colleges closed and health and government offices maintaining essential services.
Those on strike included members of a common front of public and para-public sector unions as well as a union representing one-third of the province’s teachers.
Major demonstrations took place in Montreal and Quebec City and several government buildings had picketers stationed out front.
A few thousand people marched in downtown Montreal around the lunch hour while a large banner on a plane carried the slogan, Mr. Coiteux, We Deserve Better — a reference to Treasury Board President Martin Coiteux.
Contract talks have been lagging since collective agreements expired last March.
Premier Philippe Couillard, who is in Paris for the international conference on climate change, said he deplores the action given the province has already reached tentative agreements on certain issues with several unions.
One union leader said Wednesday’s actions look to build on those agreements.
“Yes, there have been certain agreements, but there is still one last part to solve and that’s why our members are here today,” said Daniel Boyer, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour.
“We want to force the government to negotiate, in good faith, the last outstanding issues: retirement, wages.”
For the 400,000-strong common front, which comprises some of the province’s most influential labour groups, Wednesday marked a fourth day of job actions. They have a mandate from membership to have a total of six days.
The FAE teachers’ union, which represents about 34,000 teachers encompassing several French boards, will also remain off the job for the rest of the week.
That means students attending 800 schools will be staying home in various regions of the province including Montreal, nearby Laval and the Outaouais area in western Quebec.
FAE president Sylvain Mallette said he’s convinced public opinion is tipping in favour of his members as they fight for what he calls adequate resources for public schools.