Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have risen in the House this session and I want to take the opportunity to thank my constituents in the riding of Prince Albert for their support again in this election. It was a hard-fought battle and I really appreciate their support.
Today I rise to support the legislation introduced by the Minister of Labour. Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services will protect our economic recovery and help the CUPW and Canada Post Corporation come to a lasting settlement.
Our government would prefer the two parties to resolve their issues and come to an agreement on their own. The best solution is when an employer and a union can come to a solution themselves. In fact, over 90% of labour negotiations in Canada are settled without ending in work stoppages. Failing an agreement, our goal is to be fair to the 50,000 urban postal workers while taking into account the welfare of all vulnerable Canadians and small- and medium-size businesses that depend on regular postal service.
Canada Post plays a significant role in Canada's economy. It spends about $3 billion a year on goods and services, thereby supporting an additional 30,000 jobs in the economy. It contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP and directly employs over 70,000 full- and part-time employees. A prolonged work stoppage could have some really negative effects on our economy.
Canada Post's three most important business lines are mail, parcels and direct marketing. The direct marketing sector represents $1.4 billion of Canada Post's revenue. During the economic slowdown or downturn, this sector suffered severe financial losses. A prolonged work stoppage would impact the sector by preventing large Canadian retailers from reaching their customers. This could result in decreased sales, which could translate into reduced employment.
The Canadian magazine industry would also be severely compromised, as it relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution.
Canada Post offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. Even where rural letter carriers are not necessarily affected by the current bargaining dispute, rural communities could still be affected as there would be no sorting or bulking distribution of post to rural communities for delivery.
People with disabilities have transportation and accessibility barriers that may affect their ability to receive goods and services. Shopping online and catalogue shopping still rely on the postal service to get goods from sellers to buyers.
I have received letters from constituents. It was interesting to receive a letter before the lockout and one afterward from the same constituent, which I would like to read for the record. The letter before the lockout read:
Please Sir, if there is anything you can do to stop this strike, I would really appreciate it. I am a small business owner here in Prince Albert, SK. We literally ship and receive 100's of packages every month through Canada Post. This strike could shut us down affecting my own single income family, my sister & family and my parents. We pay between $6-$13 to ship through Canada Post...to ship the same package through UPS/Canpar, etc is between $33-$46. This would put us out of business.
I urge you to please do whatever is in your power to stop this strike from going forward.
After the lockout, the same person sent me a letter, which read:
I would just like to say that I'm incredibly disappointed that Canada Post was allowed to lock out the workers and especially with no notice to the Canadian public. While I was not in favour of the CUPW strike, I did feel that at least they gave the public notice and mail was still flowing even if it was slower. Canada Post stated that they would decrease to 3 days a week delivery, but then suddenly dropped all deliveries. This was completely unfair to the Canadian public and businesses. They should not have been allowed to do this with no notice whatsoever. I have a lot of mail stuck in the system now that I would have shipped other methods. I am incredibly disappointed with how Canada Post has dealt with this. The CUPW was at least working to not interrupt all of the Canadian public & businesses. It was Canada Post who did that. For this reason, I am very disappointed. I would hope that this policy would be looked at into for future reference. It should not be legal for a crown corporation to completely shut down business.
Here we see someone who has actually been impacted by the slowdown and the shutdown. Here we see what can happen to a small business when all of a sudden it does not have the service. That is why we have to look at what the minister has done and move forward quickly to make sure that we do not lose these jobs, people and small businesses. Some of the most vulnerable aspects of our economy could be affected by a prolonged work stoppage.
The Canada Labour Code has been built on labour legislation and a policy that promotes the common well-being and rights of employers and workers. It does this through negotiations of terms and conditions of employment and the constructive settlement of disputes.
Since the Conciliation Act of 1900, the labour program has had a mandate to help prevent and resolve labour disputes. Canadian labour relations have benefited from neutral third parties who conciliate, mediate and arbitrate. That was the case in the recent CUPW and Canada Post dispute.
The collective agreement covering all units of approximately 50,000 postal workers expired January 31, 2011, despite the fact that the parties have been bargaining since October of the previous year.
A conciliation officer was then appointed and met with both parties throughout February and March. The conciliation period was extended from April 1 to May 3, 2011.
On May 5, a mediator was appointed, and throughout the month an officer of the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service frequently met with both parties. Despite all this work, a work stoppage is now in effect.
We can let events control us until the economy goes into a tailspin, or we can take decisive action on behalf of Canadians. This is what the legislation proposes to do.
First of all, it puts an end to the growing uncertainty around Canada postal services. The act also imposes a four-year contract of new pay rate increases. This will mean a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011, a 1.5% increase as of February 1, 2012, a 2% increase as of February 1, 2013, and a 2% increase as of February 1, 2014.
It also provides a final offer selection, a binding mechanism, on all outstanding matters.
Furthermore, in making the selection of final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and that will provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short- and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of Canada Post, maintain the health and safety of its workers and ensure the sustainability of its pension plan.
The terms and conditions of employment must also take into account that: (a) the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of the new collective agreement, and (b) that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.
It has been nearly 14 years since the last Canada Post work stoppage. Every avenue has been explored to help bring a full and lasting resolution to this dispute.
In the absence of a solution reached by the parties, something that was clearly hoped for, the proposed legislation will bring quick resolution to the dispute. It will safeguard our economy and ensure that Canadian businesses and vulnerable Canadians do not suffer.
Our government has taken steps to ensure the efficient delivery of federal services and benefits to Canadians. We have reserved courier services, set up the early release of some benefit payments, and provided in-person delivery through regional Service Canada Centres.
We are doing this because Canadians want leadership. As parliamentarians, we have an obligation to act on behalf of Canadians.
We need to keep our economy working and build on our recent gains. We must maintain the momentum. Let us support the proposed legislation and bring peace to Canada's postal services for the months and years to come.
In my riding it is very important that we see this dispute come to a settlement. In talking to farmers or small businesses or people in small towns, a lot of their invoicing, a lot of their billing is actually done through the mail. When they cannot send a bill, they cannot get paid. They cannot pay their supplier. It is a domino effect that needs to end.
The only way this can end is through this proper legislation. I encourage my colleagues to support it. Let us get on with doing the business of the people of Canada and let us get these two parties back to work.