Mr. Speaker, after 12 days of rotating strikes, Canada Post initiated a lockout. This work stoppage comes after many rounds of collective bargaining, during which Canada Post and the postal workers union failed to close a gap between the positions and reach a settlement.
For many months now, federal mediators have worked with the two sides to find a solution. Unfortunately, the employer and the union have been unable to finalize a new collective agreement. Accordingly the government has decided to take action and tabled legislation that would bring an end to the work stoppage. The motion before us will give the House a chance to consider the labour minister's bill in an expeditious fashion.
As all members know, the procedures before us are reserved for special urgent situations. This is the case with the current work stoppage at Canada Post. Just when our economy is in the early stages of recovery, and in view of the serious consequences of paralyzing the postal service, the country can ill-afford a work stoppage. This legislation, once enacted, will bring to an end to the lockout at Canada Post.
What is at stake is our economic recovery. Right now, our country has reason to be optimistic. Our country has experienced the strongest economic growth among the G7 countries since mid-2009. All the job losses incurred during the global economic recession have been recovered. Now is not the time to jeopardize our momentum.
Our government has a responsibility, nay a duty, to act on behalf of all Canadians.
It is always better when the two parties can reach a collective agreement at the bargaining table, without the need for parliamentary intervention. The best solution in any labour dispute is one where the parties resolve the differences themselves. In this case, unfortunately, the parties are too far apart.
We could let the situation deteriorate and see businesses fail, unemployment increase and our economy falter, or the government could take decisive action on behalf of all Canadians. That is what we have done. We have taken decisive action which is in the best interests of the country and the Canadian public.
The bill would impose a four year contract and new pay rate increases. That would mean a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011, 1.5% increase as of February 2012, another 2% as of February 2013 and as of February 2014, 2%. It also provides for final offer selection, a binding mechanism on all outstanding matters. Furthermore, in making the selection of a 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.
The arbitrator will also provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short-term and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation, 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: (a) that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a 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.
Let us remember that the last postal strike happened in 1997 and it lasted for 15 days. Since then, reliance on postal service has experienced a decline in personal mail due to the growth in the use of the Internet, email, electronic billing and electronic funds transfer.
However, small and mid-sized businesses still rely heavily on the postal service for direct marketing, billing and filling orders.
Business owners, seniors and other constituents of mine have contacted my office and have expressed their support for this motion and the need for the service to resume as soon as possible.
Small and medium-sized business owners are feeling the pinch. Their businesses are being affected. Business is slowing and the cost of shipping is starting to soar.
The people of Don Valley East elected me to be their voice in Parliament. Today, I am doing that by rising and speaking in favour of this motion.
Canada Post is a crown corporation. It is one of the largest employers in Canada. It employs more than 70,000 full-time and part-time employees. Every business day, Canada Post delivers about 40 million items and provides services to 14 million addresses. Canada Post, like any commercial enterprise, has to offer dependable service, generate revenue, control costs and maintain an efficient operation.
By the same token, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is trying to gain the best salary and working conditions for its members.
The labour dispute between Canada Post and CUPW relates to the renewal of collective agreements covering some 50,000 workers, including plant and retail employees, letter carriers and mail service couriers.
We have a process in place to deal with these labour conflicts in the federal domain. It is called the Canada Labour Code. It has been followed each step of the way in this conflict.
Let me take a moment to outline the steps in this collective bargaining process, which has brought us to the situation we are faced with today.
Collective agreements covering CUPW and Canada Post expired in January 2011. Both parties had been bargaining since October 2010. When those talks reached an impasse, a conciliation officer was appointed and the conciliation period was extended until early May. During that time, the conciliation officer met with the parties. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties.
Despite all these efforts in mediation and conciliation and the Minister of Labour meeting with both party leaders, CUPW announced, on May 30, its intent to strike. On June 3 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers walked off the job. On June 15 the employer declared a lockout.
To recap, the postal workers have now been without a contract since January 2011, despite many rounds of bargaining. In fact, the parties have been bargaining for eight months.
Sometimes collective bargaining hits an impasse. It is unfortunate when the employer and the union cannot hammer out a mutually agreeable collective agreement. Unfortunately this is the situation facing the government today. When that happens, the parties can request the Minister of Labour to appoint an arbitrator.
Under normal circumstances, the Government of Canada does not intervene in labour disputes. Our government respects the right to free collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike and/or lockout. Parliament will not intervene if there is no serious harm to the national economy or public health and safety. However, when employers and unions choose a course of action that would have a negative effect on the economy and the country as a whole, then Parliament has the right to step in and protect the economic interests of the country and public interest as a whole.
What would be the effect of a prolonged postal disruption? Canada Post is a major employer across the country. It spends about $3 billion in goods and services. It contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP. Canada Post's direct marketing sector accounts for $14 billion in its revenue. During the recent economic recession, this sector suffered financial losses.
Canadian retailers depend on Canada Post to reach their customers. The Canadian magazine industry relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution.
Charities depend on Canada Post to receive donations and the funding to assist them to work. In fact, the National Institute for the Blind is now facing an estimated loss of $250,000 in funding because more than half of its regular donations are received through the mail service.
Canada Post also offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. Often the Canada Post offices are the centre of a community's daily life. While rural letter carriers are not part of the current bargaining dispute, rural communities have been affected because sorting has ceased operations.
People with disabilities have transportation and accessibility barriers that may well effect their ability to receive goods and services.
Are we going to stand by and see some of these most vulnerable sectors of our economy affected by a prolonged work stoppage by Canada Post? What would be the effect on Canada Post as a viable business? As we recover from this economic downturn, it is more important than ever that we encourage co-operative and productive workplaces.
Let us support Canadians who have recently gone through a recession and are hoping to make some gains for their families. Let us support a back to work legislation. Let us keep our economy working. Let us look to the future.
I ask my honourable colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.