03/03/2015 09:43 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

How Health Care and Social Workers Can Stop the Liberal Bulldozer

The unions affiliated with the FSSS-CSN are currently asking their employers to provide lists of people working in each department so as to begin preparing for talks with employers on essential services lists.

The population's access to services has always been important to us as unions. This is the basic reason we reject Bill 10. This is why we have to work at defining what services will be maintained in the event of a labour dispute. In fact, we did it even before the government imposed its Act to ensure that essential services are maintained in the health and social services sector -- definitely a misnomer, because the real purpose of the act is to reduce employees' bargaining clout. It is aimed at imposing more restrictions on actually using the right to strike, in addition to the ones imposed on unions in general.

If it comes to a strike, there are some who will probably accuse us anyway of "taking the population hostage". In fact, though, it's our governments that for the past 30 years have brought the system to its current state, with reform after reform, fruitless budget cuts and wage freezes for employees. For us, on the contrary, defending the public system has always been central to our action.

Preparing lists of essential services is hard work. When you have institutions with thousands of employees on multiple physical sites with different missions ranging from from emergency departments to residential care, rehabilitation and prevention, the situations are diverse and often complex. So the work on essential services lists is an unavoidable step in collective bargaining in health care and social services, with legal deadlines. By beginning the process now, we will be ready to implement coordinated pressure tactics with the entire Common Front.

Too soon?

Negotiations began a few weeks ago, and the current collective agreement expires in one month. Some people may think it is too early to talk about strike action. The way we see it, we're faced with a steamroller. The tack the employers are taking is more or less the same as in the reforms undertaken in health care and social services and in child care: unilateral and contemptuous. If we don't prepare for all eventualities, we will be subjected to the dictates of the Couillard government.

Before getting to the point of exercising our right to strike, each of the 200 unions affiliated with the FSSS-CSN will have to have its members vote a strike mandate by secret ballot. A vast debate is opening up in our union organization, because strike action remains the ultimate means of resistance we have as workers.

There is growing definite interest in our affiliated unions for debating the use of pressure tactics up to and including a strike. Some unions are further ahead than others in their consideration of this, while others are beginning to give it thought. All this is encouraging, because mobilization is how workers will be able to stop the Liberal bulldozer.

Ultimately, our goals in bargaining are aimed at ensuring that the population has access to the services that are essential for them. Because these services are provided by human beings, and these workers have a right to respect and decent conditions. Like all other workers, we have the right to negotiate our working conditions, and this includes the right to use our bargaining power to the fullest extent.


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