Quebec warns of big traffic jams
Saying motorists could be faced with monster traffic jams, the Couillard government is increasing pressure on its 1,400 engineers to return to the negotiating table.
But the union in return accused the government of trying to tarnish engineers’ image to justify possible legislation imposing a deal on them in the coming days.
“If the union refuses our request (to end pressure tactics) again, it will mean, as of Thursday, that thousands of citizens in the Quebec and Lévis region will find themselves in monster traffic jams,” Transport Minister André Fortin said at a news conference Tuesday.
“And the same scenario will repeat itself on many of Montreal’s major arteries next week.”
The trouble lies in the ministry’s desire to fully inspect Quebec’s road and highway infrastructures before the snow flies. Of the 3,800 Transport Quebec inspections a year, there are 25 left — all major — to be done.
One of the union’s pressure tactics is to refuse to work at night, limiting inspections to the daytime and creating traffic chaos.
But Fortin and Treasury Board President Pierre Arcand indicated the government’s patience with the union — l’Association professionnelle des ingénieurs du gouvernement du Québec — is wearing thin.
Negotiations have been going on for three years and there is still no agreement. The two sides have met 60 times and the union has rejected eight formal offers including the last final offer in June, Arcand explained.
The union is seeking a 20 per cent wage increase over seven years, far more than the government agreed to pay its other employees. Quebec is offering nine per cent for the same period.
“Negotiation implies compromise,” Arcand said. “People need to understand negotiations can’t go on forever, especially since it is motorists who will pay the price of these pressure tactics.”
Asked if Quebec is considering back-to-work legislation, Arcand kept all his options open.
“I am in a negotiation process,” Arcand said. “We have been talking for 36 months so at some point it has to end. But my message today is we cannot tolerate this indefinitely.”
Asked if he’s reached his limit of patience, Arcand said: “We aren’t far.” He noted the government has already settled with nearly 510,000 workers representing 96 per cent of the public sector.
Delaying such inspections until next summer — as some have suggested — is also not an option, Fortin said. On Monday, Quebec’s public administration court, the Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT), refused the government request to deem the inspections an essential service.
Fortin was, nevertheless, standing his ground. At the same time as saying the remaining infrastructures are safe, the routine inspections are necessary.
Later, union president MarcAndré Martin described the government’s news conference as a public relations operation.
“We know congestion is not popular and we are trying to do everything to avoid it,” Martin said. “What they (the government) are doing is lining up their pawns (on the chessboard) to tarnish the image of their own engineers to eventually pass special legislation.”
At issue is the transport ministry’s aim to complete road and infrastructure inspections before the snow begins to come down.