(Quebec) Minister Christian Dubé’s bill to put an end to the use of employment agencies is an “empty shell” in the eyes of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ). According to the union, Quebec misses its target and must give more bite to its aims.
“If the government thought it was pleasing the healthcare professionals in the public network and the union organization […] with this sham of a firm position against the private agencies, it is clear that it did not succeed in fooling anyone,” said unchecked the president of the FIQ, Julie Bouchard.
Yet it was at the request of the union that the Minister of Health took the decision to legislate to abolish the use of agencies. “I’m still looking for the thank you,” retorted Minister Dubé at the opening of consultations on Bill 10, which began Tuesday in Quebec City.
The union points out that the measures to tighten the screw on the independent workforce (ME) will for the most part be specified by regulation, the nature of which is not known for the moment.
“Bill 10 is absolutely no guarantee of limiting the MOI, let alone eliminating it,” continued Ms. Bouchard, who was the first group heard in committee.
The FIQ recommends that “the guidelines necessary for the gradual elimination” of the independent workforce, such as annual targets, timelines and the basic criteria for government calls for tenders “be included” in the draft law and not in a regulation.
“This amendment is essential for Bill 10 to truly ensure the progressive elimination” of the agencies, writes the FIQ in its brief where the union issues a long list of recommendations concerning the working conditions of nurses.
The Minister of Health has argued that “the bulk” of the regulations to be tabled later by his government will be similar to the ministerial orders aimed at agencies during the health emergency. “I don’t think that’s an issue,” he said in a scrum.
During the health crisis, measures had been taken to tighten the screws on agencies, such as the establishment of ceiling prices by profession. A 90-day period had also been made mandatory between the time an employee who leaves the network can return to work there for an agency.
“Everything you asked of me is going to be in the regulations. There will be no surprises,” reassured Minister Dubé in responding to Ms. Bouchard. He recalled that the government had to give itself “flexibility” by proceeding by regulation.
According to the opposition, Minister Dubé keeps too much leeway. “Precisely, it’s a bit of a blank check to the minister,” said Liberal MP André Fortin. “It looks more like a collection of decrees,” said Vincent Marissal of Quebec solidaire.
“The powers given to the minister within the bill make it possible to eliminate the recourse as much as to continue it,” argued PQ MP Joël Arseneau.
Christian Dubé argued that Bill 10, which aims to wean the public network of placement agencies by 2026, is “a key part” of his Health Plan. The success of the future law will also depend on the renewal of collective agreements, he reiterated.
Minister Dubé recalled that the use of agencies has exploded since the pandemic. “What was meant to be an exception has become a mode of management over the last few years,” he argued, adding that the number of agencies “has proliferated.”
He also reported that companies have also taken advantage of network spending to raise their prices. Mr. Dubé argues that the Quebec state has paid “300 to 400 million” too much for “the same service” by using the agencies.
In 2021-2022, the Quebec government spent nearly a billion dollars to hire independent workers. This is a 380% increase since 2016.