OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says including wage provisions in back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers is a fair approach.
But critics and the opposition say it makes the bill biased in favour of management of the Crown corporation, which locked out its employees last week after a series of rotating strikes.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers says the rates outlined in the bill are less than what Canada Post put forward in its final offer, effectively punishing them for exercising their right to collective bargaining.
Opposition Leader Jack Layton said Tuesday the legislation sends a dangerous signal to workers that if they don’t accept management terms, the government will step in and impose them.
Harper did not explain why the wages were included in the bill.
“This conflict has been ongoing and it is causing harm to Canadians who are not there at the table,” he said during question period.
“We are acting in the best interest of the Canadian economy and we are also acting in a way that is fair for all the employees of the Canadian government.”
The two sides were to meet Tuesday to continue negotiations. Upon introducing the bill Monday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt had said part of its purpose was to kickstart stalled talks.
The legislation requires both sides to submit their final offer on non-wage issues and an appointed arbitrator will pick the best one. In the meantime, they can continue trying to negotiate their own deal before the legislation is passed.
Air Canada and its striking workers announced an agreement only hours after the Tories introduced back-to-work legislation to end that dispute last week.
Meanwhile, the Canada Post bill is being debated and the government hopes to see it passed before MPs leave on their summer break at the end of the week.
The Tories are trying to limit debate, while the opposition parties are trying to scuttle the bill altogether.
“The most vulnerable of Canadians are receiving minimal service and it’s time to restore full service to all Canadians. Businesses are hurting. Jobs are on the line,” said Tory MP Ed Komarnicki.
“We cannot allow this work stoppage to continue. We received a strong mandate from Canadians that we need to remain focused on the economic recovery.”
New Democrat MP Yves Godin said his party will vote against the bill.
“I say the Conservative government should be ashamed of themselves,” Godin said during debate on the bill. “Yes, they did get (voter) support. Yes, they are here in a majority government.
“But did they tell all the workers what they will do with them if they got elected? Did we see in their platform that they will legislate people to work with a collective agreement with less than what the operator will give them?”
“They are setting a precedent and I think everyone will pay a very high price for that,” Godin said in French.
Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the proposed law is undemocratic, although he added his party recognizes that the public wants the postal lockout to end.
But Rae said there are specific reasons why the legislation is bad news.
“It’s the way in which the discretion of the arbitrator has been entirely tied and fettered by what the government has done,” he said.
Rae said the Tories cynically set a political trap for the NDP by going so far off-side with the legislation. Godin’s inflamed reaction in the House helped illustrate the point, he said.
The debate is pitting workers’ rights against the economic needs of society.
“I think the government is engaging us in an act of political theatre, knowing full well there are some in this House who will simply play the game in response,” Rae said.
He said the “bait has been laid and the bait has been taken.”
“It’s too bad for Canada that we don’t have a pragmatic, practical approach to the resolution of a dispute which is there to be found.”
Urban postal operations were suspended countrywide last Wednesday after nearly two weeks of rotating strikes by the union.
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.
Canada Post says it’s losing about $25 million a day as a result of the dispute.