OTTAWA — The Conservative government brandished the sword of back-to-work legislation for the second time in a week Monday, this time to force an end to the Canada Post lockout.
Threatening to have an arbitrator decide whose deal is better may help break the impasse in talks between the two sides, as it appeared to do for Air Canada last week.
But critics say the move sends a dangerous message and will make people afraid to join unions or strike.
“It is very much a shift and it is really putting management interests, whether they are government or private, ahead of employees,” said Laurel Sefton MacDowell, a labour relations historian at the University of Toronto.
“It’s very disturbing.”
Urban postal operations were suspended countrywide last Wednesday after nearly two weeks of rotating strikes by the union.
The two sides made no progress in their talks over the weekend, and it had been uncertain whether talks scheduled for Monday would actually take place.
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced the bill after the daily question period. She said she hopes that it either passes before the Commons rises for the summer on Thursday or that the two sides work out their own solution before then.
“Canadians want certainty, they want to know that their mail is going to continue to be delivered or start to be delivered once again, and that’s what we are here for,” she told reporters.
The job action had already cost Canada Post $100 million in lost revenue.
The Crown corporation has said the main sticking point in the dispute is the union’s demand for staffing levels beyond the capability of Canada Post, adding that wages were not the key disagreement.
The union has been emphasizing working conditions and safety issues, as well as arguing that new employees would receive inferior wages and pensions.
Workers were delivering pension and social assistance cheques Monday, despite the lockout.
The bill would see both sides put forward their final offer on the table and have an arbitrator pick the better deal.
“It’s the appropriate way to deal with this one because the parties have been negotiating on the matter for months, ” said Raitt.
“It’s been exhaustive how much help they’ve had, how much time they’ve had and they are unable to even close it a little bit so now it is time for the arbitration to happen and happen in a clean and clear way and then we get back to working on the economy.”
Opposition New Democrats accused the Conservatives of trampling on the process of collective bargaining, saying Canada Post’s lock-out of employees was what crippled the mail service, not the rolling strikes by postal workers.
“It is the government itself, through a Crown corporation, that caused the lock-out of the employees,” said NDP MP Thomas Mulcair.
Last week, the Tories introduced back-to-work legislation to end a dispute between Air Canada and its employees.
They had only been on strike for a day.
But the union and the airline agreed to a settlement before the bill was passed.