Salary Provisions of the New Contract Demystified – Part One

By Robert Green

Last fall members of the majority of Quebec’s public sector unions voted to approve an agreement on salary that had been negotiated by the leaders of the Common Front.

Prior to the vote, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) which represents teachers in Quebec’s English school boards had done very little to ensure that its members clearly understood the proposed deal. The usual mail-out was forgone in favour of a link on QPAT’s website and very little time was made available for members to study the details of the deal before being asked to vote on it. Although a more detailed explanation was provided at the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) general meeting, very few attended this meeting. As a result Quebec’s teachers, for the most part, are left with a salary agreement whose true implications few understand.

In two parts, this article will attempt to remedy this situation by demystifying and contextualizing this agreement that we will all have to live with until 2015. Part one will discuss the context of the agreement and its core guaranteed elements. Part two will explore the possibility of additional salary increases being triggered and look at the effects of inflation.

The Context

The context of these salary negotiations was one of steadily declining public sector salaries. In the12 year period prior to this agreement public sector salaries had increased by an average annual rate of 0.96 percent. However, inflation during that period far outpaced these increases resulting in real inflation-adjusted public sector salaries actually decreasing by 10.5 percent during this period.

In the lead-up to the negotiations the Common Front pointed out that “for comparable jobs, the wages of government employees have fallen 8.7 percent behind other Quebec workers. Compared to unionized private-sector workers, the figure is 12.4 percent.” It also published the results of a CROP poll showing that “no fewer than 82 percent […] feel […] that it is reasonable for the Common Front to demand wage increases that enable government employees to catch up to all other workers”; and that, “65 percent of respondents said that the wage demands of government employees are […] reasonable.”

Twenty-four hours before signing the present agreement the leaders of the Common Front stated to the press “Our members are not prepared to vote for a deterioration in their wages […] You can’t ask people to accept a longer agreement where they come out poorer in the end. That’s just crazy.”

The Core Deal: An Agreement worth Agreeing To?

The basis of this deal is a series of guaranteed annual increases beginning at 0.5 percent and gradually building to 2 percent. The average annual increase over the course of the 5 year agreement is 1.2 percent. Considering that over the last 20 years inflation has tended to hover around 2 percent, we can reasonably expect the real salaries of public sector workers, based on these guaranteed increases, to erode by at least 4 percent over the course of the contract. Given that the latest release from Statistics Canada shows that from October 2010 to October 2011, inflation in Quebec was 3.3 percent, the above estimate seems extremely conservative.

In order to assess the extent to which the salary provisions agreed to by the Common Front were a ‘good deal’ for public sector employees, it is useful to make comparisons with other public sector unions. The recent back-to-work legislation passed against Canada Post workers makes for an enlightening comparison. Table 1 below compares the salary increases ‘won’ by the Common Front with those imposed on Canada Post employees.

Table 1: Comparison of Common Front and Canada Post Salary Agreements

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Average annual increase

Common Front

0.5%

0.75%

1%

1.75%

2%

1.2%

Canada Post

1.75%

1.5%

2%

2%

n/a

1.8%

Here we see clearly that the guaranteed salary increases negotiated by the leaders of the Common Front and recommended to the membership as the best deal possible are significantly less than those that were dictated to Canada Post workers through back-to-work legislation by the most right-wing anti-union government that Canada has seen in many years. While it is true that economic conditions did improve somewhat by the time the postal workers were negotiating their agreement, it is not as if they were in a better bargaining position given the Harper government’s announced plan to make deep cuts to federal spending.

However, the Common Front deal also includes possibilities for additional salary increases. Should the right economic conditions prevail these increases would be triggered leading to a possible average increase of 1.9%, slightly more than Canada Post workers. Part two of this article will discuss the likelihood of these increases occurring and how the overall picture might be affected by inflation. Check back next week for part two.

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