June 23, 2011 / 4:49 PM / in 6 years

Canada set to force postal workers back to work

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian members of Parliament will sit continuously, even overnight, until the House of Commons passes a law to force postal workers back to work and restore mail service, the Conservative government said on Thursday.

<p>A Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) member sits in front of a Canada Post sorting facility in Toronto, June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

Because the government has a majority in the House, the legislation is certain to pass. The only question is how many hours -- or perhaps days -- opposition parties will continue to debate it before the bill goes through.

Postal employees started rotating strikes on June 3 to back contract demands and were locked out on June 15 by Canada Post, a government-owned corporation, which said the strikes halved mail volumes and were costing it too much money.

The two sides had continued negotiating but management announced on Thursday morning that talks had broken off.

The dispute has not caused the same public disturbance that postal strikes did before the advent of email and the Internet, but the government said it has prompted enough complaints from small businesses that it had to act.

The House had been scheduled to adjourn for the summer on Thursday but New Democrat leader Jack Layton said he was prepared to force the House to sit into Friday if necessary, and possibly beyond, to try to press for changes in the bill.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she would be prepared to look at any proposed amendments but the House would stick at it till the legislation gets through.

“I just want to make it clear that regardless of filibuster, regardless of how many people are going to speak, you know, we’re going to sit here until the legislation is passed. It is important for small business and for the economy to get the mail going again and that’s our final say on the matter,” she told reporters outside the House.

The legislation will appoint an arbitrator who will pick the best final offer from those put forward by the union and management.

Canada Post is seeking a two-tier package of wages and pensions, maintaining the current structure for existing employees, but introducing a cheaper one for new hires.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which represents the 48,000 urban postal workers, says management has demanded unfair concessions in areas including wages, staffing and safety.

In Parliament, the opposition attacked Raitt for using the legislation to stipulate wage increases that were less even than management had been offering, and for moving so fast to end the work stoppage.

“She has absolutely kicked organized labor in the teeth,” Liberal legislator Rodger Cuzner told the House.

“We’re deeply disturbed that the government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to, in effect, cut out collective bargaining,” said Libby Davies of the New Democratic Party.

Raitt said the wage increases in the legislation were the same as those received by another public-sector union. The bill sets the increases at 1.75 percent in 2011, 1.5 percent in 2012, and 2 percent in 2013 and 2014.

“These are increases that are not guaranteed for the majority of Canadians,” she said.

In any case, she said, “Wages was not the defining issue on the table...The defining issues had to do with pensions, had to do with new employees, had to with short-term disability.”

After it gets passed in the House, the bill still has to go through the Senate, where it should get speedy approval because of the Conservative majority there.

Mail service, however, is unlikely to be restored before early next week.

Editing by Peter Galloway

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