08/31/2013 10:40 EDT | Updated 10/31/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec City's horse-drawn carriage drivers go on strike

Tourists in Quebec City may have trouble finding a horse-drawn carriage this weekend, after 45 newly unionized drivers with the city's largest carriage business walked off the job Friday.

Drivers working for Les Calèches de la Nouvelle France are trying to get a first collective agreement, demanding higher wages and better working conditions from the company's new owner.

The carriage drivers voted 91 per cent in favour of strike action last Monday.

The carriage drivers — who joined the UFCW Canada union in November — say they work 70 to 90 hours per week and earn minimum wage, even after decades of service.

Les Calèches de la Nouvelle France operates 14 of the 17 carriages in Quebec City.

Since last year, the drivers have also been required to work full-time in the winter without a proper place to warm up, said Carlos Assuncao, a spokesman for the drivers.

"The conditions are absurd. What we want is a little respect and that [the management] stop making ridiculous offers," said Assuncao.

Meal breaks, overtime and holidays are also on the drivers' list of grievances.

The parties failed to reach an agreement after a dozen negotiating sessions, including four in the presence of a conciliator.

Quebec Labour Minister Agnès Maltais called on both parties to return to the bargaining table.

"It's certain that the tourism industry must be in shock. I hope that people will talk and resolve this quickly," said Maltais.

Assuncao says the drivers want to come to an agreement as quickly as possible, but they are waiting for management to make an offer that they consider reasonable.

So far the company has not commented on the strike, however, another meeting with a conciliator is planned for next Thursday.