Quebec government expected to impose labour agreement on its lawyers and notaries

The Quebec government is expected to impose a labour agreement on government lawyers and notaries that will give them the lowest salary hike of all Quebec public civil servants after months of negotiations with a mediator failed to find common ground.

Without a collective agreement since March 2015, Quebec ‘s 1,100 government lawyers and notaries held the longest Canadian strike by public civil servants, from October 2016 to March 1, 2017, before it was forced to back to work after the government passed an unusual back-to-work decree.

The special law called for the provincial government and Les avocats et notaires de l’État québécois (LANEQ) to return to the negotiating table to bargain “in good faith” with the help of a mediator whose recommendations are non-binding. Under the back-to-work decree, if an agreement is not reached within 105 days following the passage of Bill 127, the provincial government will impose a labour agreement that calls for a 5.25 per cent salary increase over five years compared to the 9.15 per cent increase Quebec’s 450,000 public sector workers received.

“Unfortunately it was not possible to lead the parties to conclude an agreement on all or parts of the elements in dispute between the parties,” said the government-appointed mediator René Beaupré in a brief one-page report.

Since the back-to-work decree, the two parties have held 13 bargaining sessions, including five with a mediator. Before the decree, there were more than 18 bargaining sessions and five sittings with the mediator – all of them unsuccessful.

“I regret that LANEQ was unable to reach an agreement with the government, while 510,000 public and parapublic sector employees were able to do so,” said Quebec Treasury Board president Pierre Moreau.

After initially demanding for binding arbitration overseen by a compensation committee with a chair and chosen and appointed by both parties, LANEQ watered down its stance and sought a special status within the Quebec civil service that is on par with Crown prosecutors – an issue that is not addressed in the back-to-work legislation and one that proved to be the main stumbling block between the parties. LANEQ also sought a salary increase in line with Crown prosecutors – that is, 10 per cent over four years.

“The government has said from the beginning of its negotiations that it will not budge on either special status or salary increases,” noted Jean Denis, LANEQ’s president. “They say they must treat us as they do all public servants yet they have just given provincial police officers a 17.5 per cent salary hike and as far as I know they are government employees.”

Denis said that he is still open and hopeful that more negotiations will take place. But if that fails, LANEQ will turn to the Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT) which presides over labour matters. As it stands, TAT is already scheduled to hear the parties this fall. If the matter goes before the tribunal, LANEQ says it will sue the government for $37 million for conducting negotiations in bad faith, said Denis.

“Our members are disappointed, disappointed by its employer, disappointed that their employer treats them like this,” said Denis. “It’s important for employers to recognize the efforts of its employees. So the mood of our members could be better.”

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