House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was post.

Topics

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think my question coattails on the question posed by the member for Kitchener—Conestoga. I had put a question earlier to the member for Hamilton Mountain, but I did not really get an answer, so I will ask this NDP member if he might enlighten me.

We agree that this piece of legislation is very concerning. We also agree that we would want to see both parties come together in a negotiated settlement. We believe in due process and bargaining. However, at the end of the day, somewhere down the road, there comes a time when the public has to be served and we have to bring the situation to an end.

Would the NDP at any time support back-to-work legislation and what would the conditions have to be in order to support that legislation?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I am not here to answer hypothetical questions. We have a bill that the government is trying to ram down our throats. That is what we are currently discussing and what must be discussed. We could have talked about a bill introduced in the fall. The government could have taken more time, but that is not what it has chosen to do.

The main question is this: why would we let the government allow Canada Post to fail to negotiate in good faith? That is the question that I would like the members of the third party to answer. I have not had an answer to that question. All I have is a hypothetical question about an issue that, for the time being, is very urgent because the government is talking about shortening the debate process.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague for his intervention and particularly for the patience he showed with members to run through a bit of the labour relations process and explain how important the balance is between the employer and the union. Please rest assured that I do not think it is a fair balance, but it has been accepted and recognized in statute.

Members of the government caucus have cited that they had to step in to ensure that the public was not unduly affected. Would the member agree with me that the government, by stepping in this way and signalling to the parties that it was prepared to do this, has created an imbalance that will inevitably have an impact on the public?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his quite pertinent question.

I completely agree with his suggestion. In negotiations between two parties, there must be good faith for the parties to come to an agreement. When one party already knows that, in the short or medium term, the government will support its side by putting forward legislation that will force the other side to accept even less than what it was looking for, I believe it is obvious that negotiating in good faith is impossible. At that point, this undermines the recourse of all workers in the economy and in other sectors.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have heard members opposite speak to the rights and entitlements of public sector union members. What I have not heard from the opposition is any concern for the seniors in my riding who are waiting on some medical laboratory tests being sent in the mail, nor have I heard any concerns for the small businesses that depend on Canada Post to help put food on the table for its employees.

Why does the opposition feel that the rights and entitlements of union workers should come at the expense of all Canadians, and harm our economy and our seniors who depend on medical tests getting delivered through the mail?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I do not know whether he really heard what I said today.

I already mentioned that the union itself was prepared to deliver emergency services. Throughout the bargaining process, the union has shown itself to be tremendously flexible, unlike management. Had there not been a lockout, the member’s fellow Canadians would have had access to their checks, their drugs, and everything else they needed.

The problem is not the right to strike, and the rotating strikes—which made it possible for folks to continue to access the services they needed—but management, which imposed a lockout, and knew full well that the government would force a return to work on their terms.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord has time to ask a brief question.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques to clarify the issue of “orphan clauses”, and explain how this issue is central to the current dispute.

If the Conservatives really wanted to avoid the need for special legislation, they could have dealt much earlier with the general issue of “orphan clauses”, and had them banned on the basis that they are both discriminatory and, ultimately, unconstitutional.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the issue of orphan clauses is surfacing more and more in the context of negotiations and labour relations. Obviously, employers want payroll expenses to decrease. That is difficult to achieve with the existing rights of current employees. Therefore, they are trying to start an intergenerational conflict between current employees and young people. The message being sent to young people who will be hired by Canada Post is that their work will be the same as that of a current employee, but that it is worth 18% less.

What message are we sending to the new generation? What message are we giving them? We are telling them that their work is worth less than the work of current employees. I believe it is a totally diabolical tool because it will kindle intergenerational conflicts that we try to avoid in a society that we want to be just and fair in the future.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse
Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, our government is introducing in the House Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services. This bill will provide as well for an impartial arbitration process to finalize the terms of a new collective agreement.

Our government agrees that employers have a right to freely negotiate collective agreements. I am sure that all members of Parliament are of the same mind on this fundamental principle of labour relations in Canada. The current federal system governing labour relations puts the emphasis on mediation and conciliation and is generally effective at resolving the disputed issues in labour agreements.

In these negotiations, though, we have done everything possible to resolve the outstanding issues but our efforts have been in vain. The parties still have not managed to find a basis of agreement, and under the circumstances, we must consider the repercussions of a work stoppage in a broader context.

No one is happy to see people forced back to work, but we are living in unusual times that require us to take action. We must act quickly to avoid a lengthy interruption of postal service, which is an essential cog in the Canadian economy at a time when the economic recovery is still fragile.

Before speaking about the economic repercussions of this work stoppage and our responsibility to act—as several of my colleagues have done today—I would like to share some basic information about the dispute and explain how the process has led to the situation in which we find ourselves.

The negotiations between Canada Post and the members of the Urban Postal Operation unit of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers started in October 2010. The collective agreement governing nearly 50,000 postal workers expired on January 31, 2011. After more than eight months, the parties have failed to reach an agreement despite the efforts at negotiation, conciliation and mediation.

On May 30, the union gave the employer strike notice effective June 3. On that date, the Canada Post employees began their pressure tactics by launching rotating strikes. The Minister of Labour has played a proactive role from the beginning. On several occasions, she tried to bring the parties together in order to restart the negotiations. Despite all her efforts, the employer and the union have not managed to reach an agreement. On June 15, management declared a lockout, thereby putting an end to the rotating strikes. Since then, postal service has been paralyzed.

We therefore find ourselves in the very unfortunate situation of a work stoppage in which the employer and the union have not managed to reach an agreement, and their positions remain very far apart. This is not only unfortunate but very concerning. Canadians from coast to coast are quite anxious about the consequences for the economy and the effects on them. They feel caught between management and the employees. All Canadians are affected and penalized by this labour dispute, whether in regard to their companies or families or to seniors all across the country, including in Lévis—Bellechasse et les Etchemins, or whether living in urban or rural areas, because Canada Post plays a key role in our society.

We all remember the 1997 labour stoppage at Canada Post lasting two weeks. At the time, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimated that the stoppage had cost small and medium-sized businesses $200 million a day.

Even though the postal service has lost ground since 1997 to technologies like email, fax as well as electronic billing and banking, small and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on the postal service for billing and processing orders. By May 18, when the federation released an open letter to the management of Canada Post, the federation and its 108,000 small and medium-sized businesses were already sounding the alarm.

They said, over a month ago, that they were concerned about continually rising costs at Canada Post and their impact on SMEs, which they say will push even more businesses to look for alternatives for their mail and will have a negative impact on Canada Post.

They went on to add that “for other small businesses, a lengthy mail interruption may negatively impact their firms”. Consider magazines, newspapers and other periodicals, for example. A majority of their circulation depends on the postal service provided by Canada Post. During a postal interruption there are no other practical and viable ways to distribute those publications.

This means that the periodicals industry will be hard hit if this postal interruption lasts any longer. And this is not the only example. A prolonged work stoppage would have negative repercussions for many other industries and segments of the public, whether it be our families, our seniors or our veterans. Some businesses are on high alert and are calling on the government to live up to its responsibilities.

Receiving cheques and accounts payable and delivering customer invoices, as well as sending and receiving important documents, are all disrupted by this dispute. Canada is barely starting to show signs of recovery after the economic crisis that hit the entire world hard. We are in a good position, thanks to the stability of our banking system and the extremely positive impact of our government’s economic action plan, and our economy is indeed continuing to grow more rapidly than the economies of the other industrialized countries.

In fact, we have had 2.9% growth this year, and growth is estimated to be 2.6% next year. But it is still fragile. We are facing a number of challenges, including major budget cuts, not to mention that the global economic recovery is moving slowly and there continue to be risks in the markets.

Canada is not on an island, and is not immune to the fluctuations and crises taking place in other parts of the world. We cannot allow ourselves to rest on our laurels. At this stage, we have to do everything we can to stimulate economic growth and job creation. That is what we have undertaken in the Speech from the Throne. We have said very clearly that our government “will continue to focus on jobs and growth”.

A lengthy interruption of postal services could counteract all the efforts made, not only by our government but also by our businesses, our associations, our community organizations and all Canadians, to promote the recovery and strengthen the foundations of our economy.

The figures speak volumes: it is estimated that each week Canada Post employees are on strike represents losses of $9 to $31 million for the Canadian economy. Each additional day of lockout causes significant commercial and financial losses for Canada.

The parties have had ample time to reach an agreement: over eight months. It would be irresponsible for us to allow matters to take their course at the risk of the situation becoming poisoned and this work stoppage going on for a long time.

The Canada Labour Code applies to federally regulated employees in key economic sectors. Part I of the Code deals with the rights and responsibilities of employers, unions and the Minister of Labour in the collective bargaining process, specifically when parties are unable to resolve their differences.

Ideally, the parties will be able to prevent and resolve issues in dispute by themselves. However, a deadlock may arise during the bargaining process and result in a labour dispute with implications that are extremely damaging to the national economy. When this kind of situation arises, Parliament has a duty to act, as it has in the past when similar situations have occurred.

In the past 60 years, our Parliament has used this instrument 32 times. Under the legislation we are proposing, a four-year collective agreement may be put in place. This new collective agreement would include wage increases phased in over the four-year period. In addition to ensuring the immediate resumption and continuation of postal services, the bill we introduced yesterday would make arbitration the method for resolving issues that remain bones of contention between the parties.

The onus will be on the arbitrator to choose between the final proposals made by union and management. It should be noted however that this legislation in no way prevents the parties from continuing the bargaining process and reaching an agreement, which is what occurred in 1997. Our government lives up to its responsibilities and is pressing both management and labour to reach an agreement.

The bill specifically provides that parties may agree to enter into new collective agreements at any time. It is our fervent hope that the parties continue to negotiate to resolve this conflict before the arbitrator has to step in and make a determination.

Lastly, the act would come into force 24 hours after royal assent, thereby giving workers an opportunity to fully acquaint themselves with the requirements and implications of the legislation. This is an exceptional measure that has come at a time when economic recovery is still fragile. I can assure the House that this decision was not made lightly, as I have made clear. We are aware, however, that there is no benefit to delaying the process and that Canadians expect our government to live up to its responsibilities. We are determined to take the necessary steps to protect the interests of Canadians and of our economy.

In closing, in order to safeguard our economic recovery and the well-being of Canadians, I would encourage all members of the House to support our government’s actions to put an end to this dispute, thereby ensuring the resumption of regular mail services throughout the country.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to what my colleague from Quebec had to say. I myself practised labour law for more than 20 years, acting on behalf of both employers and unions.

We are luckier in Quebec than people in the rest of Canada because we have laws that clearly protect the right to negotiate and the power relationship between the parties. As everyone knows, what counts in negotiations is this famous power relationship.

What I find very tiring and what will help me feel very comfortable in voting against this bill forcing a return to work is the fact that they are completely changing the power relationship and infusing everything with this argument about the economic recovery. What I find very tiring is that they are not giving the parties a chance to arrive at a real negotiated agreement. I want to review the timeline of these events. Just last June 2—not two or three years ago—there were some rotating strikes, but most Canadians in contact with me did not even know because the union was careful to deliver the mail. On June 14, Canada Post claimed it had suffered financial losses of $70 million since June 3.

In reply, though, to a question from journalists, the labour minister said that return to work legislation was unnecessary for Canada Post because these were rotating strikes. On the evening of June 14, Canada Post declared a national lockout, and the morning of June 15, the minister said she had received very few complaints about the rotating strikes at Canada Post. Is there someone on the other side of the House who can tell me what changed so much over the space of three hours?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Gatineau for her question.

I would like to remind her, as I said in my speech, that this dispute has been bogged down for more than eight months and our Minister of Labour has made every effort since January to get conciliation and mediation processes going. Even so, we find ourselves in a situation where Canada is paralyzed by a postal strike.

I would like to quote an email I received from a businessman late this morning. He too spoke about the rights and responsibilities we have as parliamentarians toward the people we represent. This is what he said:

What are you doing about the rights of small and medium-sized businesses that are waiting for payments mailed to them by customers? Who will pay the charge for exceeding my credit line? Who will protect the rights of my 32 employees who are facing financial danger because we have not received our payments from customers and the bank might cancel our credit facility?

We also have a responsibility as parliamentarians to protect the rights and responsibilities of people who are waiting for postal service to resume.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. Minister of Veterans Affairs for the good work he does for Canadian veterans.

This debate is really about our constituents. I received a letter from one of my constituents named Anne, who stated:

This whole situation has been an nightmare for our Chilliwack family. My husband delivers parcels for a group who are subcontracted to Canada Post, and since the lock out, he too has been locked out and had no work....We have two Elementary school age children, and find it hard to make ends meet as it is. So far my husband has already lost a week's worth of wages, which we depend on...

This is just one family in my riding that has already lost a week of wages because of this dispute. Could the minister explain the urgency of acting quickly to ensure this is not repeated across the country?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon for his question and also congratulate him on his election to this House. I hope that he has a brilliant career, just like his father.

The hon. member is completely right. Across Canada, whether back home in Bellechasse and Les Etchemins, in Lévis, or British Columbia, folks expect this House to live up to its responsibilities. It is clear that the bargaining process is getting bogged down. Several million dollars are lost every week. What is most damaging right now is that people are leaving Canada Post behind. We want a strong postal service in Canada, and yet with every day, the long-term interests of Canada Post are being jeopardized. We want to give Canada Post—its workers and its management—an opportunity to resume service. That is why we need this bill.

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to know if the member will at least take note of or recognize that the root cause of the labour dispute, the impasse we are debating today, finds its origins in the fact that successive federal governments have used Canada Post as a cash cow and have demanded dividends from it in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars of dividends that go into general revenue.

There would be no shortfall in the pension plan of the workers of Canada Post if the Government of Canada was not harvesting revenue. The mandate of Canada Post is supposed to be to deliver mail to a maximum number of Canadians for the least amount of money, not to generate revenue for the government.

The government, in imposing this back to work legislation, is adding insult to injury in that it is the root cause for the impasse because it is gouging Canada Post of all this revenue and milking it like a cash cow instead of putting it into delivering mail.