(Quebec) The largest group of employment agencies spent a bad quarter of an hour in parliamentary committee on Bill 10, which aims to abolish them. Christian Dubé set the tone by accusing the industry representative of “defending the indefensible”.

The Minister of Health did not go through all four paths to challenge the president of the Association of Private Companies of Quebec Caregivers, Patrice Lapointe, who also owns the Progressive Services agency.

Christian Dubé hounded Mr. Lapointe on the specific rates charged by his company in different regions of Quebec. He took the example of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, where Mr. Lapointe’s company would have charged 80 dollars per hour for a nursing assistant while the maximum rate according to the collective agreement is 32 dollars per hour. “That gross margin there is 170%,” Mr. Dubé stung.

Mr. Lapointe argued that several costs must be considered when agency employees go to assist the network in remote areas, such as travel costs, per diems and remoteness allowance. The president of the EPPSQ deplored in the same breath that the minister ventured on his specific case when he represents twenty members.

“O.K. [Your members] charge roughly how much on essential [services]?” replied Mr. Dubé to which Mr. Lapointe was unable to provide an average price. “I think you come today to defend what is indefensible,” the minister said tit for tat.

At the end of vigorous exchanges, the entrepreneur undertook to open his books to the members of the commission. The request will also be sent to its members.

The EPPSQ maintains that “contrary to what many believe, even at the height of the pandemic”, the remuneration of the staff of the independent labor network was $58.21, all types of jobs combined, only 0.5% higher than that of network personnel, taking into account the social benefits offered to public network workers.

Data that is far from having convinced the parliamentarians who heard groups, who throughout the day of consultation, reported abusive practices of agencies. The Quebec Regrouping of Seniors Residences has even compared private agencies to “parasites” invading the system.

“I’m not here to defend overbilling, it’s important to put things in perspective and have a global vision,” tried to explain Mr. Lapointe, who admits that companies, including its members, who overdid it during the pandemic. The EPPSQ says it pleads for better supervision of the industry precisely to prevent this type of situation from happening again, underlined Mr. Lapointe.

“I have the impression that you are coming up with recommendations because you are backed up against the wall,” retorted Liberal MP André Fortin.

“I think you had a little golden egg hen, who gave you a coco a week. Proverbially, you wanted more […] worse, you killed the goose that lay the golden eggs. That’s what happened, it’s called greed as far as I’m concerned, “launched the solidarity deputy, Vincent Marissal.

The EPPSQ recommends the Legault government, in its bill, to establish a list of suppliers accredited by the Government of Quebec and to reinstate quality standards in public calls for tenders.

Instead of abolishing the use of placement agencies, it would be more realistic to authorize a pre-established number of hours to be performed by the independent workforce, believes the largest industry group. This target should be between 3 to 5%, according to the EPPSQ. Currently, less than 4% of the hours worked in the entire health network are by independent workers.

Minister Christian Dubé’s bill to end the use of placement 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 manage to fool 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.

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 was also made mandatory between when 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.

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.

In 2021-2022, the Quebec government spent nearly a billion dollars to hire independent workers. This is a 380% increase since 2016.