Saturday, December 29, 2007

Union to tackle poverty

from The Montreal Gazette

More poverty but less services in Quebec: CSQ president

Jason Magder
The Gazette

One of Quebec's largest unions says it will take on the cause of the poorest segment of society, by ensuring there is no further deterioration in the province's social-assistance programs.

The Conseil des syndicats du Quebec, which represents 155,000 workers in the health and education sectors, held a news conference downtown hotel today to outline its priorities for 2008.

CSQ president Rejean Parent said there are more poor people in Quebec, but fewer services to help those people.

He added if the government was serious about tackling poverty, it would take steps to ensure that everyone received the same basic services regardless of their income.

"We can't let the Quebec health-care system be privatized without saying anything," Parent said.

"Because we're in a minority government, there has been less deterioration to public services in recent months, but there are still problems.

"We'll be a lot more vocal in 2008 against the degradation of services," he said.

Parent said another focus for his union in 2008 will be to challenge Bill 142, which was passed in December 2005, and imposed a six-year contract on public sector workers. It included a two-year wage freeze, followed by four years of two-per-cent pay increases annually.

Pressuring the government to repeal Bill 142 was identified as a priority for 2007 when the union held a similar news conference last year. While Parent said he's disappointed that Bill 142 has not been repealed, the union has mounted a legal challenge against the law and it could be tied up in court for years, if it's appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court.

However, Parent said the union is getting ready for the next round of negotiations so it has a stronger position to bargain from in 2010.

"We're slowly starting to get ready for 2010," Parent said. "We want to relook at the way that negotiation is done, because at this point, all the advantage is in the hands of the government."

Parent said all the unions representing public employees will meet in the coming months to come up with a common strategy for coming negotiations.

The next contracts for public employees are due in 2010 and Parent said the next round of negotiations could be extremely difficult.

"Our objective is to create the largest possible common front, similar to what we saw in the 1960s, because we think the attacks against the public service will need a large-scale response," Parent said.

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