While it’s hard to find an employee at the Public Health Department of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay who actually disagrees with the board’s move in theory, very few of them have anything positive to say about how the board went about the move.
“Right now our employer is not respecting our collective agreement,” said Rebecca Swallow who is president of the local union for the health and social-service workers of the CBHSSJB. The collective agreement in question is the working conditions negotiated by the Federation de la sante et des services sociaux (FSSS) with the Quebec government.
FSSS union members consist of permanent, full-time employees who are either nurses working as PROs (Planning and Research Program Officers), secretaries, administrative technicians, dental hygienists and other health employees related to the sector.
At the heart of the issue is not just how these unionized members feel about being given little time between when they were told to move up north or find themselves jobless, but how the CBHSSJB has yet to define whether the move is a total closure of one office or a move of the home base.
The definition of the move is pertinent to what employees are entitled to in terms of their union contracts. Without this definition of status, many of these workers find themselves between a rock and a hard place, not knowing what kind of recourse they could have.
According to Swallow, the CBHSSJB is not respecting the employees’ job-security program or Service regional de main-d’oeuvre (SRMO). Under the SRMO, should employees be required to relocate beyond an 80-km distance, they are entitled to a three-month mobility premium which is equivalent to three months of salary.
If, on the other hand, the CBHSSJB defines the move as a total closure of its Montreal office, the employees are entitled to priority placement for jobs through their union within the Montreal area. They are also entitled to their salary, courtesy of their former employer, until such time that they find new, gainful employment in their respective fields.
Swallow said that the CBHSSJB is currently attempting to block its employees from gaining access to the SRMO program by not defining the status of the move.
“We know that if the employees are put under the SRMO program, the employer has to pay back what the employees are going to be paid. That is probably why the employer does not want to apply those articles under the job-security program,” said Swallow.
The CBHSSJB has defended the move to north saying its position has always been that the move was an eventuality and the employees were always aware of that. However, it is the short notice of the move that most employees are taking issue with.
According to Swallow, CBHSSJB employees were originally informed of the ambitious move on April 1 and that the deadline to move to Mistissini would happened sometime in August. Feeling that the notice was far too short, they applied to have the move extended to a later date but October 17 was the latest the Board was willing to push the deadline.
At the same time, many FSSS union members are reluctant to move to north over concerns about their actual office space and working conditions. According to Swallow and various employees who have spoken to the Nation off the record, the new trailer offices are not yet set up and do not yet have established telephone lines or running water. The employees who have accepted relocation will apparently work from their new homes until such time that the new office space is functional.
“Why the employees are not too happy is the way the situation was handled. I don’t think there was any communication or information given to them on these processes or what is going to happen,” said Swallow.
“We are still in the process of seeking legal advice. It hasn’t ended for us yet.”