Home News Medical residents could strike Sept. 12

Medical residents could strike Sept. 12

by The Concordian August 30, 2011

Medical residents are prepared to strike this week, arguing that they are underpaid and overworked, especially in comparison to residents in other parts of North America. Photo by Navneet Pall

Quebec’s medical residents are one step closer to taking strike action after weeks of pressure tactics.
Following a day of negotiations with the Ministry of health on Aug. 25, representatives of the Fédération des médecins résidents du Québec presented the government’s latest offer to 1,200 members at a general assembly the next day.
“I would say that the offer that they’ve put on the table on Thursday is far from being satisfactory for us. It’s simply not enough,” said FMRQ president Charles Dussault.
While the offer was slightly higher than the previous one, Dussault said that if the government can’t present a better option by the end of this week, residents will walk off the job Sept. 12.
The union and the government have been in contract negotiations for the past 18 months over salaries and acknowledging residents’ work in training medical students.
Residents argue that they are underpaid and overworked, especially in comparison to residents in other parts of North America. Dussault said that Quebec residents were on par with their Canadian counterparts 10 years ago, but that the discrepancy has since grown to 32 per cent.
Dussault suggested that residents are also treated differently than other public employees, like not being offered overtime. “They [the government] simply don’t want to hear it.”
First-year residents in Quebec stand to make $41,000 a year, and can make around $65,000 by their sixth or seventh year. As well, residents in Quebec work on average 66 hours a week, according to the results of a survey of FMRQ members.
Residents suspended teaching to medical students on July 11 as a pressure tactic.
While medical students have said they support the residents’ side of the debate, many say they don’t agree with their methods, out of fear that their education is being jeopardized.
Phil Vourtzoumis, a third-year McGill University medical student and Canadian Federation of Medical Students representative, likened the decision to treating students as ”bargaining chips.”
“They basically have us hostage,” said Vourtzoumis. Some students, he said, have been kicked off of their wards.
“A lot of us support the reason they’re going on strike, but we don’t support the measures they’re taking,” explained third-year McGill university medical student Andrew Zakhari, who co-wrote an opinion piece denouncing the teaching suspension.
But Zakhari said he supports residents walking off the job. “I think a full-on strike will probably be a lot more effective at getting the message across,” he argued, saying that suspending teaching impacts only medical students, while the effect of a strike would be broader.
As the residents’ work is considered essential services, only 10 per cent of the union’s 3,000 members will walk off the job every day until they come to an agreement with the government. Dussault added that protests and picketing may be decided at a later date.
Both sides have agreed to an intense schedule of meetings in Quebec City. However, despite having had a strike mandate for weeks now, the union will avoid the strike if possible.
“We want to try and find a way to settle this before the strike, that’s for sure,” said Dussault. “And obviously, the plan is dependent on the results of the negotiations. It’s not in our plans to stop negotiating.”

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