The Conservative government tabled legislation Monday that could send locked-out Canada Post employees back to work. The move came just hours after the union and management returned to the negotiating table.
Canada Post announced late last Tuesday that it was locking out employees after nearly two weeks of rotating strikes by the union.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced the bill in the House of Commons after question period at 3 p.m. ET. Little else could be done on the bill Monday, which is an "opposition day" in the House with debate controlled by the NDP.
Raitt says she's open to meeting with the two sides, as she did by phone at noon Monday, to help them in the process.
"We're here to put people back to work because it affects the national economy and their process isn't working," she said after tabling the bill.
The bill would force the two sides into final offer selection binding arbitration, meaning each side tables its final offer and the arbitrator picks one or the other.
"If they don't like the process then they should work together to find their own and I'm more than happy to sit down and help them," Raitt said.
A vote is unlikely to take place until Thursday, the last scheduled day of the session before the House is to rise for the summer. The Opposition NDP has threatened to use parliamentary tactics to delay the vote, but government House leader Peter Van Loan said Monday the House will remain in session until the bill is passed, even if it has to sit on Saturday.
NDP MP Nycole Turmel, a former union leader, says that despite having a majority of seats in the House, the government cannot just impose its legislation on Canadians.
"They have to respect the workers and they don't do that," she said. "This has to stop, and we're there to make sure that we sensitize and we have the public opinion on our side."
The weekend brought no advance toward a settlement, as negotiations remained stalled. Both Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers had said they were scheduled to meet, but face-to-face talks failed to take place. CBC News has confirmed talks scheduled for Monday afternoon were underway.
Two sides talking: Canada Post
Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton says the two sides are talking.
"We spent the morning trying to get a meeting, now we're having one," he told CBC News. "We still have time to hammer out an agreement. Others have been able to do it."
Canada Post — Wages
The legislation introduced by the government Monday includes provisions for wage increases. It calls for an increase of 1.75 per cent in the first year, followed by increases of 1.5 per cent in the second year, and two per cent in the following two years.
Canada Post's last offer indicated it was willing to accept an increase of 1.9 per cent in the first three years and two per cent in the fourth.
The union had been asking for 3.3 per cent in the first year, followed by 2.75 per cent in the following three years.
"The number that we put in, in terms of the wage, is actually reflective of what the negotiated deal was with PSAC, which is our larger union that we negotiated last year," Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told CBC's Power & Politics."It's very much the same except adding on that final year."
"We're very comfortable with those numbers. It indicates where we think the growth is and what we think is appropriate," she said.
Raitt said putting the wages in the bill will allow both sides to better focus on other issues, including short-term disability and pension concerns.
Judy Sgro, the Liberal pensions critic, expressed concern about the wage provisions.
"To interfere in the point that they did as far as the actual wage, and to lower it, is a direct interference in the collective bargaining process, and I think ultimately will give us more of a problem with the strike," Sgro told Power & Politics.
CUPW union president Denis Lemelin said imposing wages that are lower than the last offer from Canada Post "punishes postal workers for a disruption that was caused by the corporation's national lockout."
A Canada Post spokesperson said they are not commenting on the contents of Monday's legislation.
Last week, Air Canada reached a tentative agreement with its union at about the same time Raitt tabled back-to-work legislation that would have forced airline staff to end their job action.
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.
CUPW, the union representing the thousands of striking workers, has been emphasizing working conditions and safety issues, as well as decrying the corporation's push to have new employees receive substantially inferior wages and pensions. CUPW also says Canada Post turned a profit in each of the last 16 years.
The union said in a statement Monday that Canada Post "set the stage by demanding drastic rollbacks" from the beginning of negotiations.
"We will fight it, that's clear," said Lemelin, adding that the union has been in talks with the opposition parties, looking for support.
"For us, the back-to-work legislation won't be any good for the future of the post office."
Still time for a deal: Canada Post
Canada Post said it is still eager to work out a negotiated settlement with the union.
"We've said all along we are committed to negotiating," Hamilton said. "We have come to the table with a sense of urgency that hasn't been met."
The Crown corporation said Sunday that there was still time to reach a deal, even with Ottawa stepping in, if the union would look more closely at the existing deal on the table.
"The union strike activity had us in a death-spiral of uncertainty," Hamilton said. "We took action to try and move things forward, kickstart the process. Unfortunately we're not seeing that in return from the union."
Rallies and demonstrations were planned by the union for Monday in Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Kamloops, B.C., and three centres in New Brunswick.
In Winnipeg, postal workers protested at the offices of Manitoba Conservative MP Shelley Glover on Monday, expressing anger over back-to-work legislation.
Postal workers also demonstrated outside Edmonton Spruce Grove MP Rona Ambrose's office and the office of North Vancouver Conservative MP Andrew Saxton.Bill C-6: An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services