Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ottawa targets postal strikers

Back-to-work bill tabled Monday

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OTTAWA -- The Conservative government brandished the sword of back-to-work legislation for the second time in a week Monday, this time to force an end to the Canada Post lockout.

If the two sides can't agree to their own deal by the time the bill passes, it will be up to an arbitrator to decide which side has the better offer.

Tabling the bill in the Commons may help break the impasse in talks between the two sides; Air Canada and its employees announced a deal hours after the Tories introduced back-to-work legislation to end that dispute last week.

But while the end of the postal lockout may be welcome news for those eager to see mail services resume, critics are alarmed at what appears to be a major change in labour relations policy for Canada.

"Without any public policy debate, we now have a new bargaining regime," said George Smith, a fellow at Queen's University School of Policy Studies and labour relations expert.

"I don't think this was a platform of the Harper government. It surprises me that, without that debate, that they have decided in two cases where there is clearly not overwhelming evidence of economic harm that they will intervene and impose upon the parties a process that is not contemplated in the Canada Labour Code at this point in time."

Urban postal operations were suspended by Canada Post countrywide last Wednesday after nearly two weeks of rotating strikes by the union.

The two sides made no progress in their talks over the weekend, and it was uncertain whether talks scheduled for Monday would take place.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt signalled last week the bill was coming and introduced it after question period Monday.

She said she hopes that it either passes before the Commons rises for the summer on Thursday or that the two sides work out their own solution before then.

"Canadians want certainty. They want to know that their mail is going to continue to be delivered or start to be delivered once again, and that's what we are here for," she said.

The job action had already cost Canada Post $100 million.

The Crown corporation has said the main sticking point in the dispute is the union's demand for staffing levels beyond the capability of Canada Post, adding that wages were not the key disagreement.

The union has emphasized working conditions and safety issues and unwanted cuts for new employees including inferior wages and pensions.

Postal workers marched at a number of rallies across the country Monday from Kamloops, B.C., to Labrador City, N.L., to gain public support for their cause.

Workers and their supporters in Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg also said they occupied the offices of Conservative MPs.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2011 A8

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