Mr. Speaker, this labour dispute, and I have heard it called various things, is something with which I have some familiarity as I was a union leader for many years. One of the things taught to me was that we never ever start something we cannot finish. We do not let workers go out unless we know how to get them back.
Canada Post apparently knew how to get them back. It locked them out because it knew full well that it had allies on the other side of the House who would legislate them back to work immediately. Mere hours after the labour dispute, the lockout, got started, the minister notified this august body that she would be legislating them back to work, and that is unfair.
We in Canada have developed a labour relations system that is the envy of the world, because we have predictable, regular, understandable timeframes for labour disputes. In other parts of the world, the labour disputes can start whenever the union wants them to start, but here in Canada, we know there is a clock. When that clock comes around, we know it is when we are collectively bargaining that we are in a legal labour dispute position, and we in Canada have set up mechanisms that force the parties to talk to one another, that force the parties to sit down and negotiate. That is not happening here. Why is it not happening here? Because some signals apparently were sent from the other side of this legislature to the mandarins at Canada Post that they did not have to worry about a labour dispute, because they would find legislation in their favour as soon as a labour dispute got going in earnest, as soon as they locked people out.
We need to figure out how to resolve it ourselves. That is why we are having this conversation, because the parties are unable to do it. The parties are unable to do it, because one side knows full well it does not have to do so. It does not have to have that conversation, because that conversation will be shortened by the government.
The other side in this dispute, the company side, does not have to actually bargain in good faith. It does not have to sit down and actually talk about what it needs and what the employees need and see if it can find a way to make those needs meet. All it has to do is sit with its hands crossed and say no, and here we are.
We have a number of examples in Canada of protracted labour disputes. I do not think there has ever been a protracted labour dispute at Canada Post, but I have been involved in some. I had a 17-month strike at one of my employers over pay equity, over women being paid the same as men. Women were being paid $8.99 each hour for their work, and they had to go on strike for 17 months. In that case, really nobody won.
I have been involved in a four-month strike. It was a Crown corporation, and it took that long for the employer to get its instructions from the government about what it was supposed to do. I have been involved in a two-week lockout that the employer kept calling a strike, publicly. Eventually the Canada Industrial Relations Board had to rule that in fact it was a lockout, that the thing the employer was calling a strike was a lockout because it had locked the doors.
How do we get out of this? One way to get out of it is to let the labour dispute take place and wait for one side or the other to say that enough is enough and we have to settle this thing. Let us get to the table and talk about it. That will not happen here, quite clearly, since Canada Post has been told it does not have to actually sit down and bargain.
Another way we could do it is with a declaration. There are two kinds of declarations, one in the Public Service Staff Relations Act and one in the Canada Industrial Relations Board, that this is an essential service, that this service is something that cannot have a strike or lockout.
That seems to be what the current government is arguing, that there cannot be a postal disruption in Canada, even for a day. It was on the day the lockout started that the government announced Canada Post workers would be legislated back to work.
The definition of an “essential service” in the Canada Labour Code is that the employer or the trade union and the employees in the bargaining unit must,
continue the supply of services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.
Since the members opposite have not argued this, I guess this is not an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. It is an inconvenience, and it means Canada Post is losing money. We agree that it certainly causes some very serious consequences not for everybody but for certain individuals, for pensioners and people in receipt of other government cheques. The postal workers' union has agreed to deliver those things. They will deliver the things they deem essential and that people in this House seem to agree are essential.
Somebody locked the doors. It was not the NDP and it was not the postal workers. It was the government and its Crown corporation that decided to lock the doors and prevent the delivery of what might be argued is essential stuff, though it has not yet been. We have agreed that it is stuff that it is pretty darned important to have delivered to people. Pension cheques, social security, and family allowances are the kinds of things that need to be delivered. We argue that they should be delivered, and Canada Post workers are willing to deliver them, but the government is preventing them from doing so.
There appears to be no way to stop this from dragging on, so what is another option? The only option that has been presented to us is the sledgehammer option in which, mere hours after a labour dispute starts, the government indicates it will not let that happen and forces workers back to work with less than was offered before. The government will force workers back to work with a bad faith position.
I say “bad faith position” because in my many years of bargaining if any employer brought an offer to the table and then reduced it for no good reason, not because there had been a sudden change in the economic conditions of the employer or there was legislation, in order to provoke the other side, that was considered to be bad-faith bargaining. That is not what the NDP is about here. We are about good faith. We are about fairness and we are about trying to get things done. We are about trying to get people back to work. That is really what we want to do.
The sledgehammer approach was brought about after the Minister of Labour claimed to have used everything in her power to bring these parties to an agreement. She talked at length about the number of months they had met. Of course if one side is just sitting there with their arms folded, the meeting does not really mean anything. The minister talked at length about the number of months that were involved in conciliation.
She did not appoint a conciliation commissioner. The difference, for those who do not know labour relations parlance in this country, is that a conciliation officer meets in private with the parties and never publishes a report, except to the Minister of Labour. The minister gets to know, but the conciliation officer's deliberations and decisions and ideas and proposals are all private.
However, a conciliation commissioner is public and that person actually reports to the public on what he or she thinks the outcome should be on a resolution to the dispute. That was not allowed to happen here. That was not allowed to take place, so we are faced with a situation that just got worse.
With regard to one other small piece, one of the members opposite keeps referring to the fact that they should let them vote. In fact, that is another thing the minister did not do. She has the power to force a vote, and she did not exercise it. I suspect we all know why.