Feds move to end Canada Post strike, table back to work bill
Published Thursday, November 22, 2018 10:24AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 23, 2018 8:55AM EST
OTTAWA – Less than 24 hours before one of the busiest shopping days of the year, the federal government has tabled legislation that, once passed, would force Canada Post workers back on the job.
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu introduced the bill in the House of Commons Thursday morning, alongside a motion to accelerate its passage through the House of Commons.
Taking the step to legislate Canada Post back to work comes a day after a special mediator was re-appointed to help try to find a compromise following months of unsuccessful contract negotiations and rolling strikes that have led to a backlog of mail deliveries.
Hajdu said it is not her intention to start debate on Bill C-89—called the "Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act"— today, saying there is still time for Crown Corporation Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) to come to a deal at the bargaining table.
This move has enraged the union, saying it undermines the negotiating process and has them on the offensive, likening Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to his predecessor.
“Trudeau is showing his true colours and the anti-worker agenda shared with former prime minister Harper,” said CUPW and the Canadian Labour Congress in a joint statement.
Speaking about the situation from Calgary, Trudeau said legislation is not the ideal option, and not something they want to have to move forward with, but “hearing from businesses, from Canadians right across the country, particularly as we approach the holiday season, who are really feeling the negative impacts of this means that while we are continuing to hold out hope that there’s going to be a settlement, or an agreement at the bargaining table, we also have to do what’s responsible.”
Eyeing quick passage amid holiday shopping
MPs started debating this motion Thursday and are expected to vote on it on Friday.
The motion, if passed, would allow the legislation through multiple legislative steps in one day, something that can often take weeks or months. This can be done by limiting the length of time MPs have to debate the proposed bill at second and third reading, and studying it in an hour-long “committee of the whole” meaning the House all together, rather than being sent off to a smaller committee for a longer study.
It is possible for the bill to pass through the House of Commons on Friday, should the government be ready to start debating it, but it would still need to be passed by the Senate before it could come into effect.
The Senate has passed a motion to sit on Saturday, a rare occurrence, in case they are needed.
The bill spells out the process for the postal workers to return to the job "without delay" while continuing negotiations with a new, independent mediator-arbitrator. It also states that the legislation will come into force at noon on the day after it receives royal assent.
Speaking to the bill and plan to fast-track it, Hajdu cited the coming Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales and the reliance Canadians and businesses have on timely postal services, especially during the holiday season.
"The strikes have been going on for five weeks now. Canada Post said that they could expect delays of parcel and mail delivery in 2019 as a result of these rotating strikes. Canada Post has also told its commercial customers that at this point, it cannot honor its delivery standards for any product because of the prolonged strikes, and the strikes have created backlogs of mail and parcels," Hajdu said.
"We have exhausted every option," she said, adding that the consequence of a prolonged work stoppage is too great, and will negatively impact millions of people, so the government has to intervene.
Typically, MPs are only scheduled to sit between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Fridays, to have time to depart for their ridings for the weekend. Though, one source told CTVNews.ca that Liberal MPs are making plans to stay in town and work later than usual on Friday, but work is still ongoing to try to get a deal.
Union vows to fight
The postal workers union is already vowing to fight the legislation in court, should the bill pass.
Thursday morning, the rolling strikes hit several new Ontario communities; and continued in Calgary, Alta., and Kamloops, B.C.
In an interview with CTV News, CUPW President Mike Palacek said the union is “outraged” by the legislation, and accused Canada Post of "concocting" the backlog to justify legislation.
"The fact that the government would not only violate constitutional rights, but then impose undemocratic means of getting it through so there’s no real debate allowed on this bill," he said.
Palacek said the union is currently going over the legislation with its legal counsel, and borrowing a government phrase, said "all options are on the table."
To the shoppers who are frustrated by the situation, Palacek said his 50,000 workers are fed-up too, saying they shouldn’t have to be in this situation.
"We've been trying to address urgent issues of health and safety, of equality for women. We should not have to strike to achieve these things," he said.
NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, whose party strongly opposes back to work bills, condemned the minister for tabling the bill, saying it is disingenuous for her to say she’s still hopeful the two sides will come to an agreement with this legislation on the table.
"That undermines the possibility of a fair deal coming out of the bargaining table because the company knows that the workers are going to be legislated back to work… taking their leverage away at the bargaining table," Blaikie said.
During question period, the NDP accused the Liberals of bowing to the will of major online retailers like eBay and Amazon.
Memories of 2011
In a statement, general manager for eBay Canada, Andrea Stairs, said eBay is glad that the government is taking steps toward ending the service disruptions, and is calling on the federal Liberals to next take a look at solving "the chronic problems that have led to three service disruptions since 2011."
The last time back to work legislation was used for Canada Post workers was in 2011 by the former Conservative government. It was challenged in court and found five years later to be unconstitutional, though Hajdu defends this new bill as taking a different, more "fair and balanced" approach.
During debate on the fast-track motion, Conservative MP John Barlow said he found it "ironic" that the governing Liberals are now pursuing the back to work legislation route, given that when the Tories did it, they strongly opposed and criticized them. Though, he is supportive of the move, and suggested it’s time to debate the bill itself.
"If the situation is such a crisis and our small businesses across the country are depending on a Canada Post up and running, why is she not being more forceful and acting on this more quickly, and instead, just talking about it today?" Barlow said.