The Quebec government says it will impose a new contract on the province’s engineers early Friday morning if no agreement is reached in last-ditch talks Thursday.
However, the union representing the 1,400 engineers says the government sabotaged the possibility of the two sides coming to an agreement.
Treasury Board President Pierre Arcand told reporters Thursday the two sides were to resume talks today after they broke off late Wednesday afternoon.
“We are trying to give ourselves the time to come up with a contract,” he said, adding back-to-work legislation is a last resort.
Quebec’s government engineers have been without a contract for three years. Premier Philippe Couillard said at some point, the standoff has to end.
“Up until now, we haven’t felt the desire, unfortunately, from the [engineers’] union to finish this negotiation,” Couillard said.
At a news conference Thursday, Marc-André Martin, president of the Professional Association of Quebec Government Engineers, said the two sides are only $3 million a year apart.
He suggested the government is trying to create a distraction after it came to light that Couillard and other Liberal ministers attended lavish soirées thrown by disgraced former Liberal fundraiser Marc Bibeau in the early 2000s.
Engineers call down strike
Among their duties, provincial engineers inspect roads and bridges in Quebec. Since September, they have refused to work overtime or outside business hours as a pressure tactic, meaning 25 structures would have had to be closed to traffic for inspection during office hours, starting today.
Earlier this week, a tribunal ruled that the inspections aren’t essential services, so the government can’t force the engineers to work overtime in order to complete them.
The government warned daytime inspections could lead to “monster” traffic jams for motorists.
On Wednesday, the two sides began talks just after 2 p.m., and after a couple of hours, Arcand and Transport Minister André Fortin emerged to say while still hoping for a settlement, they weren’t going to take any chances and were getting set to table back-to-work legislation.
The union says, however, its members offered to resume working overtime during those talks Wednesday, and that the government knew that when it announced it would table the back-to-work bill.