Mr. Speaker, before beginning my remarks, I have to say that I have been sitting in this House for more than five years and that I am extremely proud of my new colleagues. I congratulate them.
I have kept abreast of the Canada Post situation for a long time. I have learned a lot by speaking to workers, to the union and to representatives of management. This is what I have learned. Under its mandate, Canada Post must make a profit each year. We have learned that, in 2009 I believe, the profit was $281 million. But that is not all. The corporation must also give part of that income to the federal government. In other words, Canada Post is a way for the government to make money, to get a guaranteed income. To make this profit possible, management wants the crown corporation to become more efficient. And to do so, it must make cuts.
I have noticed this in my communities. We forget this when we are talking in this debate today, but draconian measures were instituted by the former CEO of Canada Post, Moya Greene.
In my letter to her on February 9, 2010, I outlined how the restructuring of, for example, the Trail and Castlegar post offices was creating staffing problems, with such things as part-time employees with years of seniority receiving fewer hours than casual term employees, and two fully-trained wicket clerks being transferred to a night shift position in another community. Our Castlegar post office is now one wicket clerk short, which means more lineups, and one nighttime position has been eliminated.
All of this of course decreases the service to the community.
I also understood, in talking with representatives of CUPW and others, that prior to her coming to Canada Post, there were relatively good labour relations and the work climate was better. So I believe the background to this conflict is a climate that has been fostered by this crown corporation and that is not conducive to good labour relations.
My constituency assistant, Laurel Walton, yesterday spoke to a member of CUPW on the picket line. This person was wondering if this legislation included benefits that were ripped away on June 2, such as sick leave and medical and extended health care.
I know that the employer arbitrarily reduced hours for full-time clerks and letter carriers without consultation with the union. They are asking if their regular hours are going to be restored, if the minimums in the collective agreement are going to be restored, and if five-day delivery will be restored. These are questions that are being asked by CUPW workers on the picket lines.
I am proud to report that my local retired teachers association in Grand Forks is rallying at the picket line to support postal workers. In fact, now more than ever, it is time to get support for all those who value fairness and justice. It is simply unacceptable for the federal government to legislate workers back to work, to offer less in wages than the employer, and in fact to lock out the workers.
Canadians must understand that this is just a start. As part of its cutting and slashing, Canada Post has cut back hours and positions in my province in approximately 72 rural British Columbia communities. One time, a postal worker contacted me almost in tears. She was working seven part-time hours a week and this was cut back to three hours. She was just making ends meet and working to support her disabled husband in the process. This kind of policy is hurting rural communities especially.
Prior to writing my letter to the CEO of Canada Post, I consulted with the president of CUPW in Trail. He mentioned to me that he and his colleagues were willing, before the discussions started in regard to this lockout, to sit down with Canada Post to work out a solution. They had some creative ideas about how the corporation could sell to new customers and increase revenue at the local level. In fact, I was told that relations deteriorated when the new CEO took over.
Subsequent to my letter to the CEO, I communicated with her successor. I mentioned to him in my letter of December 17 that certain staffing positions are not being filled upon retirement. This has placed additional stress on those workers, as well the public they serve.
The pattern is there. It is clear. Canada Post is embarking on a streamlining of its operations by going as far as it can go on the backs of the workers.
After the Canadian Union of Postal Workers started a series of rotating strikes, it offered to end them if Canada Post would agree to keep the previous agreement in effect while negotiations continued. But the corporation refused.
We are being asked a number of questions about what is happening and what is being done. My answer is that Canada Post imposed the lockout. The workers wanted to keep working during the negotiations. So this is not a strike by the workers, it is a lockout imposed by management. The government is now imposing a contract that is not a fair collective agreement. It is not appropriate for the government to intervene and to impose a contract on the workers.
We still remain optimistic that the dispute can be settled, but goodwill has to be shown on both sides. The government must stop interfering in the process. The management of Canada Post and the government have discussed nothing. They imposed a lockout right away and introduced a bill. It is wrong to say that the government did not make the decision. They both did.
In a communiqué by Dennis Lemelin, the president of CUPW, he said that the government’s heavy-handed intervention will damage labour relations for years to come. As I said earlier on, there had been good relations until we started these kinds of draconian measures.
The last time the federal government imposed back to work legislation, in 1997, it included a provision to ensure that the mediator/arbitrator consider the importance of good labour-management relations. The current legislation contains no such provision.
I would like to quote from my response to constituents who are concerned about this lockout. What we are seeing in this current lockout is a snapshot of things to come. There is a concentrated effort by the current federal government and others to take away the rights and benefits that Canadian workers have fought for over the years. This will eventually affect all of us, especially in our rural communities. Fewer jobs with less pay means that less money will trickle down to our small businesses. I believe, as former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said so well, that a strong economy needs a strong middle class.
If our postal workers are subjected to these cuts, loss of wages, benefits and pensions in other sectors will surely follow. There are no two ways about it. Local economies depend on well-paid jobs. Fewer jobs and less pay will mean that less money will trickle down to our small businesses.
Let us support our postal workers. Let us ensure that the government tells Canada Post to take the lockout away so they can continue negotiating and come to a reasonable solution for all.