The labor shortage, inflation and the pandemic have changed everything, says CSN president Caroline Senneville. This is true for what employers are ready to offer and unions ready to accept in terms of working conditions and wages, but also for what will have to be done in order not to miss the shift in productivity.
The Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) prides itself on being the only central labor organization in Quebec to provide direct financial assistance to its members when they find themselves on strike or locked out. Six months from the end of its current three-year financial year, it had already paid almost $27 million in benefits. This was eight times more than in its previous fiscal year (3.3 million from 2017 to 2020) and four times more than the other fiscal year before (6.4 million from 2014 to 2017).
This explosion is attributable to the adoption of new, more generous rules by the central, whose total budget is approaching 300 million over three years. But not only. “There have been a lot of conflicts,” explained to the Duty the head of the union in an interview this week. “We went from an industrial peace to, let’s say, a climate of effervescence. »
This was observed not only in the number of labor disputes, but also in their scale and duration, she said, citing, among other examples, disputes in early childhood centers (CPE), at the Olymel slaughterhouse in Beauce and at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery in Montreal.
This more tense climate stems in particular from the labor shortage, the soaring cost of living and the upheaval in work habits experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, explains the one who succeeded Jacques Létourneau after that he made the jump to municipal politics in June 2021. She will chair, all next week, at the Palais des congrès de Montréal, the triennial convention of the Central union which has some 330,000 members.
The big end of the stick
“We heard that thanks to the labor shortage, the workers and the unions had the big end of the stick. It’s not necessarily wrong, at least as far as wages are concerned,” she says.
But the labor shortage also does not come without “a deleterious effect on working conditions” in terms of overwork, staff turnover, safety issues and forced overtime, “and not just in the public sector”, continues the former professor of literature at the Cégep de Limoilou in Quebec.
However, in terms of working conditions, “it is sometimes easier for an employer to take money out of his pocket than to cede control”. Caroline Senneville is proof of this by the many bosses who no longer want telework now that the pandemic is over. Unfortunately for them, “the toothpaste came out of the tube. It has been proven that it works”.
The 2,000 representatives of 1,600 unions expected at the CSN convention next week will also discuss immigration. Particularly some 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Quebec. Among other things because their presence, for other workers, comes with support, training, communication and health and safety challenges. But also because their working conditions and the precariousness of their status often appear “flagrantly unfair”, deplores the president of the CSN, who would like them to be simply welcomed as “permanent immigrants”. The current situation is so deplorable that she says she fears for Quebec’s international reputation as a “welcoming society”.
Shift to productivity
The labor shortage also means that we deal much more seriously with productivity issues than we have until now, especially if we are serious about the project of a return to Quebec of certain industries that have gone to low-wage countries. “Who says reindustrialisation, says transformation of the world of work through automation, robotisation, artificial intelligence and productivity gains. »
To do this, we will need a government with a clear, long-term overall vision, Caroline Senneville recently argued during the meeting of Premier François Legault with representatives of the major labor organizations on the sidelines of the party. from 1er may. As in Germany, this policy should be based on a “tripartite approach”: government-business-unions.
The president of the CSN denies having gone from a logic of job creation to a logic of production. “We must continue to create jobs, but interesting jobs and in an economy that has a future, which will be sustainable. »
All of these issues are also reflected in the ongoing negotiations in the Quebec public sector, where the CSN is a central player in the inter-union common front with its some 175,000 members.
While the deeply human nature of most public services may lend itself less well to automation and robots, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for big gains in quality and of productivity. “If you offer new tools to help someone work better today who almost has to put people’s lives in danger to be able to take a pee break, they will definitely not say no to you. »
bye bye boss
Here again, it is also a question of salaries. The union camp is calling for indexation to the cost of living in addition to a catch-up of 2%, 3% and 4% over three years. The government instead offers 3% the first year then 1.5% per year for 4 years, in addition to a 2.5% over five years “to meet government priorities” and a lump sum of $1,000 the first year .
“It would be less than inflation and therefore an impoverishment of workers,” replies Caroline Senneville. There is nothing that justifies this in the context. Neither in the economic and public finance context nor in the context of the current labor market. »
And that is without mentioning the other setbacks that the government would like, particularly in terms of retirement, on the pretext that public sector employees enjoy job security. But the president of the CSN warns. If the government does not take the measure of the situation, it reserves an ugly surprise immediately after the possible imposition of its offers and the retroactive payment of its first salary increases and its lump sum of $ 1,000. “There are people who say: I’m going to take this and I’m going to leave. »