06/15/2011 05:32 EDT | Updated 08/15/2011 05:12 EDT

Canada Post Locks Out Workers, Union Calls Move Irresponsible


UPDATE: CTV News says it has learned that Labour Minister Lisa Raitt intends to push back-to-work legislation forward in an effort to end the ongoing postal strike. But Parliament will first deal with the Air Canada strike, before getting to the postal strike next week. Read more here.

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- Don't bother checking your mailbox this morning.

Canada Post has suspended urban mail operations across the country after 12 days of rotating strikes by its 48,000 unionized urban workers.

The Crown corporation says it was forced to declare the lockout late Tuesday night after the rotating work stoppages caused mail volumes and revenue to drop significantly.

"While we'd hoped to avoid a disruption to service to Canadians, we feel we can't continue to let this drag on," Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton told the Canadian Press.

"It's having a huge impact on the business, it's having a huge impact on our customers and our employees and the time is now to get a deal with the union."

The post office estimated it lost $100 million after the largest rotating strikes took place Tuesday in Montreal and Toronto, where about 60 per cent of the country's mail is handled.

It also said talks with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers were at an impasse, with the two sides "far apart" on several key issues and no progress at the negotiating table for weeks.

"If we allow the uncertainty created by the rotating strikes to continue — and we've seen customers walking away from Canada Post — our ability to remain financially self-sufficient and not become a burden on taxpayers certainly is going to be in jeopardy," said Hamilton.

Union representatives reacting to news of the lockout said Canada Post's latest move was not entirely unexpected.

"I see it as a manoeuvre on the part of the corporation to try and get the government to legislate us back to work and legislate some type of unfavourable collective agreement on to us, as opposed to allowing the free and collective bargaining process to work itself out," said Gerry Deveau, CUPW National Director for the Ontario region.

The federal government had appeared to rule out back-to-work legislation earlier this week, but the nationwide lockout could change that.

Canadians had already been feeling the effects of the labour dispute, not just from the rotating strikes, but because Canada Post had scaled back mail delivery in cities to Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays before declaring the lockout. The union had said the scaling back was an attempt by the corporation to provoke a general strike.

The current country-wide suspension of urban mail is likely to have a wider impact.

Although the labour dispute does not include rural postal workers, who fall under a different contract, even the post office has acknowledged that a prolonged lockout could mean they would eventually have no more mail to deliver.

"There will be nothing moving through this country," said Deveau. "If the government doesn't intervene then I do see this potentially being a very long lockout."

Both sides have said they expect to continue negotiating through Wednesday.

Deveau said negotiations had already been moving at a particularly slow place and the lockout would add an "interesting turn" to talks. Pensions, workplace health and safety and sick leave benefits have been some of the key stumbling blocks, he said.

Meanwhile, Canada Post said it is still keen to reach a negotiated settlement.

"We certainly hope this is only a short-term measure," said Hamilton.

"Unfortunately we have not been able to make much progress at the table and believe this is the best way to bring forward a timely resolution to the impasse."

Canada Post's union says the Crown corporation was irresponsible when it suspended urban mail operations across the country starting today.

The union has accused Canada Post of seeking to cause major disruptions in order to pressure the government into ordering workers back to work.

By Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press