Accueil » 29-4 ( 1974) » Les relations du travail dans la fonction publique au Québec : situation et orientation

Les relations du travail dans la fonction publique au Québec : situation et orientation

Gérard Hébert

Résumé

L'auteur résume les derniers développements survenus dans le secteur public québécois depuis la grève générale de 1972. Après avoir effectué une brève rétrospective des incidents rencontrés dans cette négociation, il décrit les principales orientations qui se dégagent tant du point de vue des structures de négociation que de celui des mécanismes de règlement des conflits en vue de la prochaine ronde de négociation.

Abstract

Public Service Staff Relations in Quebec

No major development has taken place in Quebec, since 1972, regarding public service staff relations. Some minor events and important discussions are worth mentioning for they will have a definite impact on future negotiations. It must be recalled that, except on a few points that will be mentioned in due course, public service staff relations in Quebec fall under the general law of labour relations as contained in the Quebec Labour Code, especially in section 99 regarding strikes in public services.

BARGAINING STRUCTURES

These are eight bargaining units, one of which, subdivided between white and blue collar workers, contains more than 75% of all public servants (see Table 1).

The union representing these employees was certified in the Stature itself. The other units comprise special groups such as professionals, teachers employed by the government and peace officiers; these groups were certified by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, on the recommendation of a joint committee. Practically all Quebec public servants are unionized.

Any conflict respecting the bargaining unit is decided, since 1969, by the Labour Court. An important case is now pending concerning all casual workers, white and blue collar workers. Having signed up more than 1000 of them, the union (the « Syndicat des fonctionnaires provinciaux du Quebec » — S.F.P.Q.) has applied, in March 1973, to represent them all; the investigation commissioner dismissed the case, in January 1974, on the ground that he had no jurisdiction, because the Civil Service Commission had withdrawn these employees from the application of theCivil Service Act, and placed them under special regulations. On appeal, the Labour Court ruled that such withdrawal did not deprive these employees from their rights under theLabour Code. The file has been returned to the investigation commissioner to complete his enquiry.

All collective agreements in the Quebec public service will terminate on June 30, 1975, except that of the peace officers (prison guards and the like) which expired June 30, 1974. Bargaining for these employees has been going on since the Spring of 1974, and an agreement has been reached in principle (September 1974) waiting to be ratified by the members. Through a labour relations committee, amendments have been made to the other agreements, on points such as sick leave banks and travel expenses. The government has refused to reopen the agreements on the cost-of-living problem; he agreed to pay earlier than foreseen in the agreement part of a cost-of-living bonus, on a lump-sum basis, scheduled for a later date.

As for the bargaining structure of the next round, all interested unions are favouring sector bargaining rather than common front bargaining at one single table. Even at the sector level, interunion cartels are not guaranteed. Coordinated bargaining is much more likely to occur than any other form centralized bargaining. Greater centralization could come through government decision, either by legislation — present Bill 46 has to be replaced before June 30, 1975 — or by pressure on bargaining agents to agree on another unit. There is also the possibility of a multi-tier system, some subjects or general rules being bargained at a central table, other matters at various level sector tables.

IMPASSE RESOLUTION AND THE RIGHT TO STRIKE

The Civil Service Act contains only two provisions regarding impasse resolution and the right to strike. Peace officers are forbidden to strike, and no other group of government employees may go out on strike unless the essential services to be maintained have been determined by mutual agreement or by decision of the Labour Court. For the rest, the Labour Code applies to civil servants as for all other public service employees.

Common front experience of 1972 had raised forcefully the problem of essential services. To try to solve this problem with general rules, Bill 89 — « An Act to ensure public well-being in case of labour conflict » — was introducedin the National Assembly in December 1972. It would give the government great powers in public service disputes. Following a decision by a three-person committee that a work stoppage would endanger public health, safety, welfare or education, the Cabinet could, in the case of a government public service, suspend the right to strike, while the dispute was referred to the proper parliamentary committee. A secret vote on the last offers was to be held afterwards by a poll commissioner; if accepted by a majority of employees, these offers would become the collective agreement; otherwise the government would then remove the strike prohibition or refer the dispute to the National Assembly for settlement. In non-government public services, the same procedure could be followed, or the case could be referred to « commissioners on disputes » for a last-offer-selection type of arbitration. The reaction from all sides was so bad that the Minister of Labour finally withdrew the Bill.

In July 1974, Bill 24 was tabled containing many amendments to various parts of the Labour Code, but nothing on section 99. The Advisory Council on Labour and Manpower had discussed possible formulas for impasse resolution without coming to a consensus, mainly on essential services. The union members of the Council advocated mediation board intervention, on the essential services to be maintained, if the parties could not agree; the board recommendations would be published to enlist public pressure on the parties, but there would be no compulsory decision. The management members considered such decision by an out-side body necessary for the protection of the public.

The Labour Minister has endorsed publicly the no-coercion position, both on the determination of essential services and on the content of the collective agreement. He underlined that compulsory intervention with binding decision, brings no solution to labour disputes; it leads the parties to refuse to shoulder their responsibilities and often induces them to reject such decisions. It is not clear however how much support the Minister will be able to secure on such a position in his own party caucus.

The civil servants union has come up with different recommendations. It suggests that mediation services should be granted only on joint application, but that arbitration should be available at the request of one party; the arbitration award should be made public but it would not be binding. On the question of essential services the S.F.P.Q. considers that a list should be maintained up-to-date by a joint permanent committee; in case of a strike, failing agreement of the parties on the list, a decision should be made by the Labour Court.

What will finally come out of such conflicting opinions is hard to know. The no-coercion approach is appealing to labour experts; the apparent security of a legal way to determine at least essential services may be more palatable to the public in general and probably to most of the National Assembly members.

SCOPE OF BARGATNING

As in all other jurisdictions, scope of bargaining for public servants is restricted in Quebec mainly on questions that fall in the realm of the Civil Service Commission, especially on classification and promotion.

Classification is the sole responsibility of the Commission, but the very first collective agreement, in 1966, stated that the forthcoming new classification would abide by certain principles, some of them were spelled out in the agreement. The new classification was approved in 1967, but difficulties grew out immediately. A consultative committee for its revision was soon in operation; it was made up of government, union and Commission representatives. Following this revision, the government and the union signed a formal agreement determining the process for the integration of civil servants into the new classification; an appeal procedure was included, with binding arbitration as the final step. 14,000 cases were appealed, and 2,000 submitted to arbitration, nearly half of which were won by the union. In its next round of bargaining, the union plans to go after joint decision on any modification or new classification.

According to the current agreement, a joint committee was to make recommendations on rules that would permit an unsuccessful candidate to a higher class to be informed of the reasons of his failure, and to have the right to appeal any discriminatory decision. No progress has been made on this point, and the union will try to have these rights written out in the next agreement.

To protect the merit principle, seniority cannot be considered for appointment or promotion of a white collar civil servant ; for blue collar morkers, it can be used only in cases of equal competence among two or more candidates.

With the progressive encroachment of the collective agreement and joint committee activities on its various responsibilities, the Civil Service Commission progressively loses its decision powers and looks more and more as an administrative arm of the Civil Service Department; it might eventually become simply a division of the Department, the agreement and the union taking up the duties the Commission had to protect the civil servant against arbitrary decisions.

CONCLUSIONS

In trying to extend the scope of bargaining and to obtain more accurate definitions of the bargaining units — as in the case of casual workers — the civil servants unions carry on the work of bringing greater rationalization in the whole structure and general rules of the Civil Service itself.

The future bargaining structures are uncertain. No one wishes to reenact the chaotic situation of the 1972 common front. But the most important actor, the government, remains silent for the time being concerning its intentions.

The impasse resolution system is in the process of being changed. Conflicting opinions on very basic approaches appear to block any proposal, at this point, for revision of the all-important section 99 of theLabour Code.