This text is part of the special booklet Defining priorities on the large table of commitments
For trade unions, election campaigns are a privileged space to make their concerns and demands heard. This year, the Centrale des unions du Québec (CSQ) is emphasizing dialogue with the political parties so that its members are able to know precisely the ideas that will influence their working conditions.
The president of the CSQ, Éric Gingras, cites two major reasons which justify union action during an election period. “Our role is to improve working conditions, and these depend on government decisions and policies,” says the president of the trade union federation. This is when the parties make promises related to education, health, with a direct effect on the daily lives of our members. »
This campaign in particular represents an interesting window of dialogue, according to Mr. Gingras. “We are in shortage of manpower, and we lived two years of pandemic where the need for strong public services was clearly felt”, he continues.
After consulting its members over the past few years, the union center has found that the negotiation of collective agreements alone is not enough to advance the rights of the people it defends. The need to participate more actively and regularly in the political debate has emerged.
This observation has materialized through the “I vote in colors” campaign, a platform whose aim is to publicize the specific proposals of political parties, in the most neutral way possible. “We met the leaders of the political parties to discuss, not to argue, explains Éric Gingras. Based on their answers, members will be able to make a more informed choice. The initiative may encourage them more to go to the polls.
According to the president of the CSQ, an election campaign is a privileged moment to establish a social project and take the time to exchange, while the Quebec government has managed a lot in an emergency during the pandemic. “The trade unions have solutions, but you have to be able to have a space to say them,” he adds. We don’t just want to be consulted before the government does what it had already proposed, we want to be directly involved in the decisions and work together. »
The issues of attracting and retaining workers linked to deteriorating working conditions in many sectors are key themes in these elections. Education personnel, among others, are overworked and increasingly burdened. The CSQ also wishes to address environmental issues, Aboriginal issues and pay equity. “For 25 years, equity has still not been achieved in the public sector and elsewhere,” laments Éric Gingras. We challenged the parties to include it in their platform to improve the law. »
According to Yanick Noiseux, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Montreal, working conditions — especially at the bottom of the ladder — have been too little in the public debate for the past thirty years. “Campaigns are therefore fundamental, because it is a time when people are eager to discuss social issues”, indicates the principal researcher at the Interuniversity and Interdisciplinary Research Group on Employment, Poverty and Social Protection (GIREPS ).
He also underlines the importance of distinguishing between the shortage of labor and what he calls the “shortage of working conditions”. For example, the number of certified nurses in Quebec in the public sector has never been so high, in 2021. “It’s not so much that we lack them, but rather that we can’t manage to remember because of the difficult schedules and compulsory overtime, among other things”, illustrates the professor.
In general, he denounces a devaluation of the care professions and the education sector which must be discussed during this campaign. Pay equity is all the more important because the proportion of women is much higher. According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, in Quebec, 70.8% of women hold positions in education, law and social, community and government services, compared to 29.2% of men. The gap is even more glaring in the health sector, where they represent 82.3% of employed persons.
Immigration is another theme that will be covered during this election campaign. For Mr. Noiseux, the unions have the opportunity to advance the struggles for the regularization of the citizenship statuses of temporary foreign workers, even of undocumented people. “There is a construction site in Ottawa at the moment, the Liberal government is thinking about it, but we should take advantage of it to be heard on this issue, he suggests. We must defend these workers with precarious status. »
Promoting access to full status and not to “half-rights”, such as being attached to an employer to keep one’s visa, for example, would strengthen the balance of power against employers, according to the professor. “I look forward to these people being seen as dignified humans and not as a stock of labor,” he says.
A major topic to integrate in exchanges between trade unions and political parties is the environment. “We need more consultation and coalitions to move forward in the fight against climate change,” concludes Yanick Noiseux. It is difficult on this aspect, because jobs must be protected at the same time. »
In addition, the professor mentions the labor shortage in the private sector, especially trucking, where there is a crying lack of people with permits, as well as a deterioration in working conditions, in recent decades. In the retail trade, he suggests considering a minimum wage instead of turning to a very young workforce as is currently the case.
Faced with so many challenges and needs in the public and private sectors, there is no doubt that this election campaign and the promises of the political parties will be closely followed by the unions and their members.
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Election campaigns, a decisive moment for trade unions
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