Christinne Muschi La Presse canadienne Le premier ministre François Legault le 16 octobre dernier
In September, Prime Minister François Legault warned that the fall would be hot due to strike threats looming during negotiations surrounding the renewal of public sector collective agreements.
Before the start of the parliamentary term, he showed what kind of wood he was making by commenting on the positions of nurses represented by the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ).
“Unions like the FIQ want Labatt Bleue for everyone, wall-to-wall, the same increase,” he lamented.
With the preliminary settlement reached with the Common Front, which represents 420,000 public sector union members, Mr. Legault has put behind him the largest part of the negotiations, where he took place, in recent memory , more present than all its predecessors.
The FIQ also announced on Friday that a conciliator had suggested to the parties a media truce until January 15, given that an agreement is out of reach in the coming days.
“He suggests that the government and the FIQ do not discuss in traditional media,” said the FIQ, which has 80,000 members.
A repeated presence
In November and December, Mr. Legault intensified his interventions. He notably repeated that the government was ready to increase its salary offers.
“In exchange for flexibility, we are ready to improve our offer,” he said at the end of November.
Then, he invited the teachers of the Autonomous Federation of Education (FAE) to stop their indefinite general strike, which caused him to be accused by union members of engaging in emotional blackmail. “We can’t hurt our children,” he said on December 1.
A week later, he anticipated a refusal from the Common Front by showing himself open to improving what was on the table. “We are very open on monetary matters. »
The next day, the Prime Minister still sent a contradictory message to the unions. “It’s going to get rough over the next few weeks,” he warned.
He then moved forward, in mid-December, to a return to class for FAE teachers. “I am hopeful that all the children will return to school this coming Monday,” he said before being contradicted.
He also said that nothing would be resolved with health network employees before January. “When it comes to health, it’s very, very difficult,” he confided the same day.
An unusual presence
Two former unionists believe that Mr. Legault harmed negotiations with the public sector with his interventions.
Former Quebec director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Marc Ranger believes that these statements are unprecedented. “I have never seen this, so many declarations, and, at the same time, I have never seen negotiations as public as these,” he said.
Mr. Ranger, who was a trade unionist for 25 years, believes the prime minister's interventions have muddled the message. “There seemed to be disorganization, improvisation,” he noted.
Former president of the Confederation of National Unions (CSN), Gérald Larose is also surprised by the place that Mr. Legault has occupied. “The prime ministers I have known, and I have known five, did not intervene in the negotiation. If they intervened, above all, they did not disrupt the negotiation process. »
According to Mr. Larose, during the 16 years he chaired the CSN, negotiations were led by the president of the Treasury Board. The Prime Minister made the final decisions. “The prime ministers kept a reserve,” he relates.
Mr. Legault's statements made the unions turn against each other, said Mr. Larose. “It was very amateurish,” he said.
The adult in the room
Marc Ranger noted that negotiations progressed from the moment public statements stopped. He sees it as the product of the work of the conciliator appointed at the request of the Inter-Union Common Front.
“The conciliator had to send very harsh messages to say: enough is enough, radio silence. »
For Gérald Larose, the credit goes to the president of the Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel. “The only one who saved the furniture was Sonia LeBel, who still managed to put things in order. He was the adult in the room. »
According to him, the president avoided Mr. Legault torpedoing the negotiations with his declaration that nothing would be resolved in health before January. “It would have changed the momentum if Ms. LeBel had not taken the stand to say: no, no, no, we do our work at the tables,” said he indicated.
Mr. Ranger believes the Prime Minister tried to play the public opinion card, a strategy that backfired. “These blunders, when you look at it coldly, worked a little in favor of the unions,” he said.
Marc Ranger believes that the government has, however, taken some pressure off itself in its discussions with the FIQ by reaching an agreement with the Common Front, which also represents nurses. “The government has the advantage of demonstrating its ability to obtain regulations in a difficult context. »
However, he believes that nurses will continue to benefit from the support of public opinion. Gérald Larose makes the same observation, and adds that this advantage should continue to influence discussions with nurses.
“People recognize that this is very difficult work, so it would surprise me if the government benefits from extending the negotiation,” he said.
The FIQ, which is awaiting a response to its latest proposal, has put aside the threat of going on strike during the media truce announced on Friday.
As negotiations with the FIQ are likely to extend until January 2024, Mr. Legault still has a few days to decide how much Labatt Bleue he will offer.