Quebec labour tribunal reaffirms health sector workers' right to strike

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

Hospital hallway. Photo: Michael Coté/flickr

The Administrative Labour Tribunal (ALT) in Quebec has ruled that a portion of the province's Labour Code restricting how much certain public sector employees can strike violates the Constitution.

The ruling was made on August 31.

The Labour Code mandates how many health-care employees need to continue working during a strike. This amount varies depending on kind of job and workplace. In hospitals, it is 80 per cent or 90 per cent, depending on the type of hospital. In community health centres it is 60 per cent, and 55 per cent in child and youth protection centres.

Two Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) locals and two CUPE Quebec locals mounted the challenge. Eleven unions participated as interveners, including the provincial nurses' federation and CUPE National.

The CSN, which represents more than 132,000 public health and service workers, argued the law violated the constitutional right to freedom of association. A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, said freedom of association includes the right to collective bargaining. This includes the ability to have meaningful strikes. That decision was rendered while the Quebec unions were preparing for province-wide Common Front strikes.

The law outlines four categories of workers and the degree to which they are essential, from nurses and cardio-respiratory workers, to technicians and health and social services professionals. The tribunal agreed that this part of the Labour Code violates the Constitution. It said the minimum requirements for essential services are "arbitrary" and do not always reflect what are essential services. The tribunal has no way of determining what work is essential.

It has given the Quebec government 12 months to review the law.

The conditions laid out in the Code aren't subject to negotiation, so workers have limited ability to challenge what is and what isn't essential. This gives the employer an unfair balance of power, said Caroline Senneville, CSN vice-president.

"We have to decide together what is essential or not. It's not the boss's job to decide that on their own," she said.

Public health and safety need to be maintained during a strike, said Senneville. Nurses, for example, still need to take care of patients. But not all jobs in a hospital are as essential for health and safety. Requirements need to be different depending on people's jobs, she said.

The impact on public health and safety is "not the same if you work in the office, a kitchen or an emergency room," she said.

"Of course you need to have a balance between the right of the public to security and health, but you have to have a balance between the right to strike."

CUPE Quebec spokesperson Serge Morin said in a press release that this was "a major victory for public sector workers." He promised that the union would be active in the debate about how to balance workers' rights with the right that the population has to access care.

The government has 30 days from the date of decision to appeal. Collective agreements in the health sector don't expire until March 2020.

Meagan Gillmore is's labour reporter.

Photo: Michael Coté/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.