Mr. Speaker, right at the start I will open by making it abundantly clear that the Reform Party supports having back to work legislation in order to get the postal service operating again for the 30 million Canadians who depend on it. In essence what we are doing in this particular bill is making the best of a bad situation with a flawed piece of legislation.
Before I get into the main content of my speech, I would like to address a couple of comments to the speech made by the Minister of Labour. One of the things he said is that he has no regret in allowing this process to take place and he said that while acknowledging the incredible economic and personal harm that this has done to Canadians. I find that shameful. I find it very shameful that he said that he has no regret at the harm this strike and this process has brought to Canadians.
He also talked quite eloquently, as he has throughout the time leading up to this particular debate, about how you have to let the collective bargaining process work—he is down to just over 90% today, before he was saying figures of 94%—without work stoppage. The reality is that this is the fourth strike by Canada Post in 10 years.
There were two strikes in 1987 and in fairness that would have been one if the unions were combined as they are now into a single union. Presumably there was a settlement in 1989 and there was another strike in 1991. Then a little bit of labour peace and here we are in 1997.
Whether the minister uses the figure of 90% or 94% without a strike, that is not the case with Canada Post and he knew that going into this. What we have called on the government time after time is to provide some mechanism for the union and for Canada Post that does not involve a strike or lockout. Reform's position on Canada Post has always been that there should be a no strike, no lockout solution for all postal contract disputes. Our first concern is and always has been the Canadian public's right to have an uninterrupted mail service.
In the Liberal Party's rhetoric during question period, the Minister of Finance keeps bragging about this great 10% reduction to employment insurance premiums and how much it is going to cost the government. He keeps talking about what a great thing this is, what a tremendous sacrifice by the government because there is going to be a $1.4 billion reduction in government revenues.
Since this strike has started, it has cost Canadian business over $3 billion and that is still going up by over $200 million a day. By the time this legislation can get passed and the whole process can get started with some lag time, it will be at least another $1 billion. That is a $4 billion cost to the Canadian economy. And the government has the nerve to say, “Look at the tremendous sacrifice we are making with a $1.4 billion reduction in our revenues because of our very, very generous change in the employment insurance deductions”.
Prior to the strike actually starting 1,000 people were laid off from mail dependent businesses just from the threat alone. That is the time the government should have opened its eyes and said we have a real problem and we have a responsibility to do something about it. Unfortunately the government completely ignored its responsibility to the Canadian people.
Since the strike got under way it is estimated that in excess of 10,000 people have been laid off. I hope the minister dealing with employment in this government takes those figures into mind when he starts talking about the wonderful job creation record of the Liberal government when in fact its inaction has cost so many people their jobs as Christmas approaches.
This is starting to have an impact on non-mail dependent businesses as we go into the highest retail sales period with all the business cutbacks and the layoffs that have ensued. For many charities this is prime fund-raising time, a time when they raise as much as 80% of their annual funds. A large chunk of that time has been lost and it will not be recovered. The impact for charities alone on this labour disruption is going to be felt next year, all through the year when various people in need come to these charities for the services which they offer. They are going to find that those charities do not have the money. The reason they do not have the money, again, is the failure of the government to act swiftly in the interests of Canadians.
None of these figures take into account the human hardship and suffering by many people who are looking to the mail for things like employment insurance cheques, welfare cheques, support payments and a variety of other income cheques normally delivered through the mail. Although arrangements were made for some people, many fell through the cracks and many were left in dire straits. We have had calls from all parts of this country with people absolutely heart broken, in total despair. They have no cheque from wherever that source was supposed to be. We had one that I mentioned in this House, a woman from Vancouver Island, a young mother with two young children who is on employment insurance. The cheque is already a week late.
With this great government program which said it would take care of everyone and deliver cheques, well, the cheque was lost somewhere in post office limbo. That woman had no food in the house to feed those children. Maybe the government does not care about that. I guarantee we do.
We owe it to all these people and to the rest of the citizens of Canada to ensure that this situation does not continue to occur every few years. We need an alternative to strikes and lockouts that is fair to all the parties involved and fair to Canadians who count on the postal service. The government's legislation does not provide that.
The current back to work legislation is nothing more than a band-aid applied to a festering wound without any real repairs that are necessary for a long term solution. The government must accept a large portion of the responsibility for this current dispute. It provided no reasonable alternative to a strike. It has intentionally provoked CUPW throughout the negotiations. Unfortunately CUPW has played into the government's hands with talk of targeting postal businesses and promoting civil disobedience. I am pleased to see it has backed off in that somewhat, at least for the time being. It is to be congratulated for seeing through this ploy of the government.
On that, there is quite a bit of action from the union leadership chastising organizations like to the Canadian Direct Marketing Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Those organizations are acting on behalf of their membership in a proper manner. Is the CUPW leadership suggesting that these people should not be allowed to speak out about the harm that this is doing to their members?
I would hope that the post office union leadership would keep in mind that when you target a business because you do not like the activity it has had during this dispute, the business is not a stand alone entity. That business has employees, quite possibly union employees. When you target that business you also target those employees because of the impact, if you are successful, you will have.
In the interest of the Canadian public, Reform will support back to work legislation. However, we will be offering amendments to the legislation in an attempt to make it fair for all parties. The principle reason for our actions is to ensure some measure of labour peace in the postal service. Our motivating factor is to provide an effective and reliable postal service for all Canadians.
If the process is not fair and balanced, and what the Liberals are proposing certainly is not, then the tension that exists between Canada Post management and its employees will only get worse if indeed that is even possible.
We need to have a process that can be held as a model of fairness and replace the current and past disruptions to postal services. Invariably these strikes end with legislation but not before causing great public harm.
There is a growing resentment of the union for going on strike in the first place. Before we proceed immediately to place all the blame on the union we have to consider one point. It had no other alternative mechanism to use and the blame for that falls on the government both present and past.
If the government can see the need to end strikes for the public good, then why can it not see the need for a no strike, no lockout alternative to this action? It would appear, many claim, and I would not dispute them, that the government has been proceeding on a predetermined agenda since this dispute began; between statements made by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services regarding the legislation and the actions he would take and in stating that he would ensure that CUPW takes the blame for any strike, through government controlled delays in the negotiations which caused the seemingly inevitable strike being delayed until the Christmas mailing season was upon us, to the latest item of an intentionally meanspirited piece of legislation. I am going to deal with why I call this meanspirited in a minute.
First I think it is appropriate to review the about face of, for example, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. I would remind the House that this is not the first time that we have had a post office service continuation act. There was one in 1991 and of course there was one in 1987.
In 1987 the then Tory government brought in basically the same legislation that we are faced with today, perhaps not as draconian as what is being brought in today because there was not a legislative settlement. I quote from Hansard , October 9, 1987, the now Minister of Public Works and Government Services who at that time was the post office critic: “We should let Canada Post Corporation manage its own affairs”. That is what CUPW was saying going into this. He further stated referring to the Tory government: “You are an anti-worker government. That is what you are”.
It seems that something happens when they walk across that floor. Further to that I would like to add one of the other members of the now government who was in opposition at the time, the former deputy leader of the party, now down to being the Minister of Heritage. She stated, from Hansard October 13, 1987, referring to the back to work legislation: “It is so draconian in its influence that it is possibly a violation of the charter of rights and freedoms. This is a very onerous and draconian piece of legislation”.
Interestingly the legislation then, flawed though it may be because it did not offer a final solution to this, was not as flawed and draconian as that which introduced in this House today.
The reason that I have referred to this legislation as meanspirited is one specific provision in the bill. That is the inclusion of the rate and implementation dates of pay increases. The government is appointing an arbitrator to settle outstanding issues in this dispute but is taking the wage question out of the hands of its own appointed arbitrator.
The settlement in this legislation is less than what was offered by Canada Post. I am not talking in terms of what is the appropriate increase or whether this one is appropriate or not. There is no justifiable rationale for including the actual wage settlement in the legislation when you have your own arbitrator in place except to intentionally invoke a reaction from the unions.
The important question in this area is why did the government do this and what is its real agenda. Removal of this preimposed settlement is one of the amendments that Reform will be putting forward during committee of the whole. I sincerely ask the government to strongly consider allowing that amendment and supporting that amendment because it will take a bit of the meanness out of this legislation. Then it will only be as flawed as past legislations. guess. We are going to deal with other aspects of this as well to try to fix this legislation for the government.
Another amendment, the main one, will be to replace the toss a coin arbitration approach of the government with final offer arbitration in order to provide a fairer alternative to the strike-lockout approach.
Why would any government want to introduce legislation that only serves to inflame an already bad employee-employer relationship and potentially set us up for the next strike less than three years down the road? If the government will accept this amendment we will be able to have a permanent postal service that Canadians can count on and we can then commence to deal with the internal problems of the corporation and its employees.
Canada Post Corporation came into existence through 1981 legislation by the then Liberal government. It provided three mandates for Canada Post. The first was to reduce the deficit. It has reduced the deficit. In fact, it has eliminated the deficit. We can therefore say that it has made good on that one part of the mandate.
The second part of the mandate was to improve service to the public. I do not know if there is anybody in this House who wants to stand up and defend the fact that Canada Post has not improved service. In my rural riding in particular the service has gone downhill by a great deal. It has not lived up to the second part of this. It takes longer to get a letter than it used to while postal rates have continued to increase. We are not getting mail delivery in towns that come under the guideline of qualifying for mail delivery. In communities that do get mail delivery, when a new area of that town opens up it does not get mail delivery. Service has gone downhill.
The third mandate was to improve relationships with its employees. Maybe in its second mandate it might falsely try to argue that service is good, but I do not think there is a single person in this House who would have the audacity to rise in their place and suggest that relationships between Canada Post and its employees have improved.
I mentioned that our solution to this is final offer arbitration. This is something we have talked about a lot. Some people have asked what exactly it involves. We have fleshed it out in great detail. I think this is something the government should pay attention to.
I point out that when the government has occasionally made the remark that final offer arbitration does not work, the Liberals themselves, in the last Parliament, used this twice. It was the settlement mechanism they imposed to end the Vancouver port strike in 1994. It was the settlement mechanism they imposed in the Canada Transportation Act, a piece of legislation passed by the Liberals in the last Parliament as a settlement mechanism for disputes between shippers and the railroad.
I am going to pre-empt the NDP members by suggesting that if they oppose this they might consider that it was the NDP government that brought this in as provincial legislation in Manitoba some years back. In fact, it was the right wing party that took it out. I would therefore be real interested to hear their comments hopefully supporting final offer arbitration in this particular mechanism.
In final offer arbitration, as proposed by the Reform Party of Canada, all steps of the collective bargaining process will remain unaffected except for the final dispute settlement mechanism. The current final dispute settlement mechanism, which is not really a mechanism at all, a strike by CUPW or a lockout by Canada Post Corporation, shall be replaced with final offer arbitration.
At any time during the collective bargaining process an alternative dispute settlement mechanism can be used if it is agreed to by both parties provided it does not result in an interruption of service to the public. If all the steps set out under the rules for collective bargaining have been followed and one or more items of the contract remains unsettled and either party feels that no further progress can be made, the outstanding items only shall be dealt with through final offer arbitration.
One of the things that is important, and it counters what the government has done, is that the government has appointed the arbitrator in this legislation. I have already pointed out in this House that in appointing the arbitrator, the government has a conflict of interest.
It is like having a dispute between a company and its employees and the company gets to set all the rules. Alternatively, the dispute can be between a company and its union and allowing the union to set all the rules and arbitrarily impose things on the company.
I think it is wrong because the government is not even attempting to appear fair and impartial. It is simply setting the stage for the next work disruption just a few years down the road, maybe about the time some of the companies affected by this strike are just starting to recover.
In our idea of arbitration selection, when the negotiations reach the point of requiring arbitration, each party shall select three people as possible arbitrators acceptable to them. The two parties shall then have seven days to provide the other party with the names they have selected along with their curriculum vitae.
Each receiving party shall select one name from the list submitted within seven days of receipt and notify the other party of their decision.
This is to ensure that, if they simply have each party select their arbitrator, they could, innocently even or not, select someone that the other side simply cannot deal with because of past conflicts or any number of reasons.
This at least allows the opportunity for a selection from three. It still allows each party to select from that list, or select that list to be presented to the other side. It does give a little bit of leeway for each party if they have problems with one particular person.
The two selected arbitrators shall then have a maximum of 14 days to agree upon a third arbitrator who shall chair the arbitration panel and these three will then make up the arbitration team.
Upon selection of the arbitration panel, each party shall submit their best and final position on each outstanding contract item within 30 days of the arbitration panel's selection.
The arbitration panel shall notify both parties in writing of the location at which the final positions must be filed, including the precise date and time of the deadline for filing.
Failure to submit a final position within 30 days shall be considered an abandonment of the process and the other party's final position shall be accepted.
If both parties fail to submit within 30 days, the settlement shall then move to binding arbitration. The arbitration panel may not divulge any details of either party's position to any party until a decision has been rendered.
The arbitration panel shall consider each party's final position on all outstanding contract items as a single package, unless it is agreed upon by both parties to the dispute to deal with the outstanding items on either an individual basis or in specific groupings.
For example, anything that has to do with wages, money and bonuses, overtime rates and so on could be dealt with in a group that was agreed to by both parties. Anything that had to deal with hours of work, vacations, holidays, lieu days could also be dealt with in a single group if agreed to by both parties.
One of the advantages of final offer arbitration is that it tends to move both parties fairly close together. It does not guarantee that will happen but it does tend to do that.
For example, if an appropriate increase were $1 per hour, if the employer were offering 75¢ and the employee group was asking for $4, they are going to end up with 25¢ less than they would reasonably be entitled to. It would behove them to try to get close to but perhaps a little above.
Likewise, if they are asking for $1.25 when all the indicators are that they are only entitled to $1 and the employer offers no raise or perhaps a cut in pay, then they are going to get more than they are entitled to, and so should they under those circumstances.
During the deliberation period of this arbitration panel when these two sides have submitted their best position, each party will be permitted one day not exceeding 7.5 hours to make personal presentations to the panel in order to justify their positions.
Each party will be provided with not less than five working days notice of the time, date and location of their personal presentation. This notice may be provided during the interim submission period.
The arbitration panel shall select the final position of the party whose position is most justifiable in accordance with guidelines set out for the arbitration panel within 30 days of the filing deadline.
The arbitration panel may not change or modify the position of either party. It is that mechanism that tends to ensure that both parties are reasonable or know that they are going to lose.
If, in the opinion of the arbitration panel, both parties are so far removed from a justifiable position, the panel may provide both parties with notice to resubmit their final position. Where this is done, each party will have 20 days to resubmit that new final position. The arbitration panel shall again notify both parties in writing of the location at which the resubmission must be filed and a precise date and time of the deadline for filing. No information on details of the first submission may be released before the final settlement is announced.
If either party fails to resubmit their offer within the 20 day period, their last filed position shall be used by the arbitration panel.
The arbitration panel shall select the most justifiable position submitted within 20 days of the filing deadline for the resubmission.
Within 30 days of the announcement of the successful submission, the arbitration panel shall submit a full report containing the final submission of both parties and a full point by point justification of the arbitration panel's choice of the submitted offers.
If the report is not unanimous, the dissenting panel member shall submit a minority report within the same timelines as the other panel members. The minority report shall be appended to the majority report and shall form part of that report.
The report shall then be submitted to both parties and to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. The minister shall table in the House of Commons within five sitting days of receiving it or, if the House is in an extended recess, the minister must forward copies to each opposition party within 14 calendar days.
The factors which must be considered by the arbitration panel. Before I read these, I would like to point out that I came to Ottawa as we were approaching the possibility of a strike, during the so-called break period. I contacted both Canada Post Corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. I offered to meet with them to explain the process and what we proposed, to seek their input.
I did meet with Canada Post Corporation. I talked by telephone with a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, but I did not receive any submission from them with regard to this. That notwithstanding, I have tried to take into consideration the things that are fair to them as well as fair to Canada Post so that this becomes a balanced mechanism so that it can be deemed fair by both sides.
The factors which must be considered by the arbitration panel are:
First, the cost of living index since the last contract settlement. One of the basic arguments for an increase in wages, other factors aside, are changes in the cost of living.
Second, the average public sector increase since their last contract. I intentionally used the public sector because although this is a crown corporation and not exactly a direct government service, the union itself has argued against the concept of privatization and does not want to be part of the private sector. Therefore, it is appropriate that we look at the wage increases in terms of what is taking place in the public sector.
Third, the impact on postal service. This gets more into special conditions and what impact they would have on the postal service, pro or con. The financial impact of the contract settlement. No business of any kind, even a not for profit business can have a settlement where we do not at least look at what the impact of that settlement is.
Fourth, will the settlement cause an increase in postal rates in excess of inflation since the last adjustment. This is done not for CUPW or for Canada Post, but for the citizens of Canada. They have a right to expect reasonable rates and efficiency and it has to be a factor.
Fifth, any changes in job descriptions. If Canada Post has changed what it expects people to do, then it has to be reflected in the submission made by the union to say “we have changed what we do and therefore we are asking consideration that these rates change”.
The final item is any public sector comparisons of any of the disputed items. What is the norm out there? If there is some condition of employment that either the union is asking for or the post office is asking for, then what is the norm in society?
These are the amendments we will be asking for. If successful, we will also ask for an amendment to the Canada Post Act to ensure this becomes a permanent settlement mechanism so that Canadians who have just gone through the hardship of the fourth postal strike in 10 years will not in future have to reel under another one.
In the same context I would like to remind the Minister of Labour of his speech when he said that he had no regrets in allowing this strike to take place. We all have regrets that this strike has taken place. It is the responsibility of this government to ensure we put in place a fair process so that this strike is Canada's last postal disruption.