NEWS
06/21/2011 01:26 EDT | Updated 08/21/2011 05:12 EDT

Postal Back-To-Work Bill Debate Curtailed By Tory Majority, While NDP Bristles

CP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The federal Conservatives are trying to limit debate on legislation designed to end the labour dispute at Canada Post.

The opposition parties are trying to scuttle the bill.

But the Tories want to narrow the time members of Parliament are allowed to speak in the House of Commons about the legislation.

It was introduced by Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on Monday, the second time in a week the government moved to end a labour dispute by forcing the parties back to work.

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.

Upon introducing the Canada Post legislation, Raitt said its purpose was in part to push both sides into coming up with a deal on their own terms, rather than have to craft a best offer without being certain what the other side was putting on the table.

The Tories say the security of the Canadian economy is at stake.

"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."

But critics and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers immediately criticized the bill, suggesting it favours management and sets a dangerous precedent for future labour negotiations.

Among the criticisms is that it sets out wage increases for postal workers that are less than what Canada Post included in its last offer.

NDP 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. Yvon 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," he said.

Rae 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.