For years, Quebec home childcare workers have been fighting for collective rights and fair representation. The provincial government has been using bureaucracy and rhetoric to undermine their progress. This October, workers finally decided that it was time to fight back.
The problems faced by childcare workers are similar to those of other domestic workers: being paid below minimum wage; being uncompensated for overtime and working long, hard hours; having too much of a workload; and facing ongoing struggles with the government to fix these problems. All of these issues affect not only these workers, but also the many families who rely on affordable, quality childcare. By making childcare less fair and accessible, the government is making it more difficult for working-class people to support their families. This is especially true for single parents, large families, and the un- or under-employed.
The emergence of under-the-table childcare services is also a concern, because they do not have to subscribe to government safety, educational, or quality control standards. Many families may have no other choice but to place their children under questionable care. Additional government funding is necessary to cover the cost of home care. Affordability is a huge problem across Canada, and even in Quebec despite the $7/day daycare fee set by the Quebec provincial government in the late 1990s. Now, even this subsidy is being threatened and services are very underfunded.
In the meantime, the government is making it more and more difficult for someone to become an “official” childcare provider. The Educational Child Care Act (2005) is an example of how the government lays out strict rules relating to quality of care. Many centres are too underfunded to meet the specific demands of the legislative acts. These acts also give substantial power to government administrators, especially the Minister who is given arbitrary control over many rules. Refusing to comply to these regulations can lead to disciplinary action or even a government takeover.
How are the workers responding to this injustice? In June 2009 the Quebec government passed Bill 51, which allowed daycare employees to organize themselves and legally participate in union activity. Unfortunately, it also includes many loopholes and regulations that the government can use as tools of oppression. Because of problems with the unionization and negotiating process, the workers (led by the CSQ labour federation) have begun strike action. In late October, they organized rotating strikes to make their point, and they also held a day-long strike for all workers on Wednesday, November 10. Over 13,000 day-care workers marched in demonstrations to pressure the government to stop stalling their negotiations, which have been barely moving since February. They are demanding improvements in pay, pensions, and vacation time. Home daycare providers and those who operate out of commercial spaces both receive $19 per day per child from the Quebec government, and another $7 from parents. The union wants another $12 per day added so that salaries and pensions will be similar to those of employees who work in the larger Centres de la Petite Enfance (CPEs). These are all reasonable demands that would give home childcare employees the same rights as other unionized workers.
It is the responsibility of the leaders of the working class movement to support the childcare workers in their demands, and show solidarity in the face of government manoeuvring. It has become clear that the government is neglecting our most precious resource and stake in the future: our children. We must defend our right to quality childcare and a socialized, fair system of family support. We must refuse the actions of the government that oppress or undermine the workers, and hold them accountable for the problems created by unfair legislation. Only by uniting with our fellow workers can we help them stand up for their rights, and be recognized for the true value of their labour.