moved that Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services, be read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole.
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to introduce the second reading of the bill entitled “An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services”.
A work stoppage is under way, a vital service is gone and Canadians have some urgent questions: How did this happen? How did things get this far? Do we not have mechanisms to resolve labour management conflicts?
We certainly do and they actually work quite well, and over 90% of the time.
In this country, employers and unions that represent employers are able to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment through the process of collective bargaining. This usually involves compromise on both sides and these negotiations almost always result in a settlement that is acceptable to both sides. We do not hear much about these proceedings because there is usually nothing very dramatic about the signing of a collective agreement.
However, what if the talks fail? This occasionally does happen. However, all should not be lost because the Canada Labour Code does provide for a series of measures the government can take in order to help the parties in a dispute get past their differences and avoid a strike or a lockout.
So what happened in the case of Canada Post?
I can assure Canadians that we did everything within our power to help Canada Post and the union to come to an agreement. We used every tool at our disposal.
I will take members back to the fall of last year. Negotiations between the parties began in October 2010 and the goal was to get a settlement before the existing collective agreement expired at the end of January. Despite some concessions made on both sides, the two parties could not agree on some crucial points. Therefore, on January 21, 10 days before the contract expired, the parties informed me that they were deadlocked.
As I said, in a case like this, there are steps the government can take. The first step is to send in a conciliator and, if conciliation fails, to appoint a mediator.
In the case of Canada Post and CUPW, the government followed the usual process as set out in the Canada Labour Code and we spent a lot of time with both sides. I want to stress, in case there is any doubt on this point. that this government does not play favourites and we appoint experts who are impartial. The job of conciliators and mediators is not to impose the kind of agreement that would be most agreeable to the government. Their role is to help the parties find their own solution.
I will go back to the chronology. After 60 days of conciliation, there was still no agreement between Canada Post and the union. Considering the stakes involved, both parties agreed to extend the conciliation by a further 32 days. Even after 92 days of effort by a conciliator, an agreement in this case was not forthcoming so, on May 5, I appointed a mediator. The parties entered a 21-day cooling off period, as prescribed in the Canada Labour Code, and still there was no progress. Instead, on May 30, the union filed a 72-hour strike notice and, on June 3, the postal workers walked out. Finally, on June 15, the employer declared a lockout.
I said at the beginning that Canadians have questions. The next question they have is: What will happen now?
If the last postal disruption, which occurred in 1997, is anything to go on, the damage to the economy could be significant. Businesses that rely on the mail will be severely affected. If the strike is prolonged, some of those businesses could go under, jobs could be lost and some of the job losses could be permanent.
Can we afford this disruption at a time when our economy is still recovering?
Many of our citizens depend on the services of Canada Post to receive essential government information and benefits. In fact, everyone will be affected by the work stoppage but people with disabilities, elderly people and people who live in remote communities will be hurt the most. This strike will cause undue real hardship to many Canadians.
The next question in their minds is: What is the government going to do about it? The answer is that we have made the difficult decision to end the strike with back to work legislation and binding arbitration.
When collective bargaining actually fails, employers have the ability and the legal right to bring pressure on the unions in order to settle the matter. The unions also have the right to withdraw their labour in order to make sure that there is a settlement at the end of the day.
In this case, we are unable to see a resolution. That is why we introduced this resolution in order to give the parties a way forward so that they conclude their collective agreement at the table.
It is the culmination of a long process. I have worked with the union and I have worked with management for a long period of time. The reality of the situation is Canadians cannot go on without postal services for much longer. The government has no alternative but to introduce back to work legislation and that is what we have done today.