June 20, 2011 / 6:48 PM / in 6 years

Government introduces bill to restore mail service

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The government introduced legislation on Monday to force an end to a labor disruption at Canada Post and restore national mail service in a matter of days.

<p>Mail trucks are seen as they are parked behind a chained up fence after the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) were locked out at a Canada Post sorting facility in Toronto, June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

The back-to-work bill provides for a winner-takes-all result, with an arbitrator selecting the best final offer of either Canada Post management or the union, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told reporters after the legislation was introduced.

“That’s the danger of asking Parliament to settle your dispute. Your dispute should be settled at the table between the parties who know the issues the best,” she added.

“If they don’t like the process, they should work together to find their own.”

The postal service ground to a halt last Wednesday when Canada Post management locked out the unionized work force, which had mounted a series of rotating strikes since June 3.

Raitt said she had thousands of communications from small businesses, charities and ordinary Canadians urging an end to the disruption.

Canada Post, which is owned by the federal government but operates independently as a for-profit company, is seeking a two-tier package of wages and pensions, maintaining the current structure for existing employees but a cheaper one for new hires.

It has offered raises to existing employees, but has said its survival depends on its being able to pay new employees less so it can compete better with other delivery companies, which have lower cost structures.

It also wants to give new employees a defined contribution pension plan instead of the current defined benefit plan, which requires it to top up the pension fund when the value of assets in the fund decline beyond a certain point.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which represents the 48,000 urban postal workers, says it understands the pressures facing Canada Post in an era when consumers increasingly pay bills online and use e-mail for letters.

The union says Canada Post is profitable but refuses to listen to union proposals to modernize by providing nontraditional services like banking. It also says it is demanding unfair concessions in areas including wages, staffing and safety.

Raitt said she expects the majority Conservative government will pass a motion to force the bill through quickly if an agreement has not been reached beforehand.

A strike at Air Canada was settled last week, under the pressure of back-to-work legislation, with the two sides agreeing to submit to binding arbitration over a similar proposal to switch to defined contribution pension plans for new hires.

Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson

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