Tories pushing ahead with back-to-work postal bill

The federal government hopes to push through its back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers on Thursday if the two sides can't reach an agreement before then.

The federal government hopes to push through its back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers on Thursday if the two sides can't reach an agreement before then.

Canada Post locked out workers on June 14, after 12 days of rotating strikes launched by the union. The two sides held meetings Tuesday, a Canada Post spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, a Conservative motion to compress the time frame for debating the back-to-work bill took up much of the House's time on Tuesday.

MPs will vote on the motion Thursday morning and, because the Conservatives have a majority, it should pass. Then debate on the actual postal bill would begin.

Peter Van Loan, the Conservative House leader, said he's aiming for the back-to-work bill to be passed by the end of Thursday, the last scheduled day of the session before the summer break.

"Well, I'm hopeful that we can finish it off, if not on Thursday, perhaps on Friday," he told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "Then it has to be dealt with at the Senate, so that could mean postal service as early as next week."

Tories defend bill, wage provisions

Legislating postal workers back to work is not ideal but is necessary to protect Canada's economic recovery, the government argued earlier in the day as debate on the motion got underway.

When would mail service resume?

Right now, it's not clear when or if the back-to-work legislation will become law.

The opposition parties are against it, and the NDP could filibuster — talk as long as possible — to drag things out. The government has responded that it will force the House to sit as long as necessary — including Saturday — to pass the bill.

Once it passes, it takes effect 24 hours after the governor general signs it into law. Mail service is supposed to re-start immediately.

According to the bill, both the employer and employee must resume postal service and duties "without delay."

Canada Post wasn't immediately available to say whether delivery would resume 24 hours after the bill passes, or whether it will take some time to get workers back to sort the mail and get it to postal workers for delivery to homes.

Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan said if the bill gets through the Commons and the Senate before the weekend, he hopes mail will resume early next week.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the government's action and the bill's measures, which include wage increases that are lower than the ones offered to the union by Canada Post at the negotiating table.

"This conflict has been ongoing and it's causing damage to Canadians who are not there at the table," Harper said in French. "We are acting in the best interests of the Canadian economy and we are also acting in a way that is fair for all the employees."

Harper said the proposed salary increases are the same as those the government negotiated with other public sector employees.

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner said during the debate that it's rare for back-to-work legislation to dictate salary parameters, and that in this case, it's "mindblowing" that the proposals are even less than what was offered by Canada Post.

Earlier in the day, Kellie Leitch, the parliamentary secretary to Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, spoke on behalf of the Conservatives and said the Canada Post dispute is putting Canada's economic recovery in jeopardy.

Leitch said it would be "unwise" to let the collective bargaining process run its course because "the risks to our economy are too great to ignore."

The Ontario MP said Canadians are starting to see the repercussions of the labour dispute and are asking Ottawa to intervene so their mail can start flowing again.

NDP defends rights of workers

The NDP's labour critic, Yvon Godin, also condemned the wage proposals.

"I do not understand this unless the government hates workers," he said.

Godin defended the right of workers to unionize and said the government isn't respecting that right. "We have to have respect for those men and women who work hard for us," Godin said.

Godin said economic recovery is just an excuse being used by the Conservatives to put the Canada Post employees back to work.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers said the last offer from Canada Post included raises of 1.9 per cent in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and two per cent in 2014.

The back-to-work bill, however, sets wage increases at 1.75 per cent in 2011, 1.5 per cent in 2012, two per cent in 2013 and 2014.

On Tuesday's Power & Politics: The War Room  podcast, CUPW's national director for Ontario, Gerry Deveau, said the government has no respect for workers, and the legislation favours Canada Post management.

"From our perspective, Lisa Raitt's not the minister of labour, she's the minister of business," he told host Evan Solomon.

Deveau said employees would face steep penalties if they chose to defy the legislation.

"This isn't the way to negotiate, certainly not from the perspective of the union, negotiating with a gun to our head," said Deveau.

Employees violating the legislation would face fines of up to $50,000 a day if acting as representatives of the union and up to $1,000 a day in other cases.

"They're doing everything in their power to ensure that if the members even contemplated defying legislation they would be quickly bankrupt, and if they didn't pay the fine that they would be criminally charged," he said.

The last time postal workers were legislated back to their routes in 1997, the bill also provided lower wages than what management had on the table.

The reason rates are being set below the Canada Post offer is to match the last settlement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada unit in the post office. It also puts pressure on the union to settle or get even less than Canada Post is offering.

With files from The Canadian Press