06/23/2011 04:21 EDT | Updated 08/23/2011 05:12 EDT

Canada Post Dispute: Back-To-Work Legislation Debate Nears


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA -- The Canadian Union of Postal Workers says it is doubtful negotiations will resume in the face of the Harper government's determination to impose a settlement in the three-week dispute.

The legislation has removed any incentive for Canada Post to compromise because the government is siding with them, a union spokesman said Thursday.

"They are the shareholder of the corporation," said George Kuehnbaum, CUPW national secretary treasurer.

"They have a vested interest in what the corporation wants, not what the workers want."

Talks between Canada Post and its union broke off Wednesday night. The company said in a news release that the two sides remained far apart on several issues after 72 hours of negotiations.

All eyes shifted to Parliament Hill as MPs began debating issues surrounding the back-to-work legislation and were expected to continue at least into the evening.

Opposition MPs vowed to continue fighting the bill, saying it takes Canada's Post side on the dispute and imposes a wage settlement inferior to the company's last offer.

The postal union was also seeking an amendment that would strip the bill of a provision where an arbitrator must choose between the two offers on all other outstanding issues -- a so-called winner-takes-all approach.

But Labour Minister Lisa Raitt defended the measure as necessary to settle the dispute.

She said "final offer binding selection" was necessary because previous experience, when Ottawa last ordered postal workers back on the job in 1997, resulted in a further two years of mediation and "millions of dollars" wasted.

She added it was fair that the government impose a wage settlement identical to increases it has negotiated with public servants.

"At the end of the day, we are responsible to the great taxpayers of Canada (who) have the responsibility of being on the hook for Canada Post," she said.

"We want to make sure we ensure the viability of Canada Post Corp."

Kuehnbaum said Canada Post will end up getting the vast majority of what it has wanted since negotiations began.

But he said there are no plans for workers to defy the back-to-work law, since the penalties are so punitive. They range from $1,000 a day for rank-and-file members to $100,000 a day for the union.

"We've looked at what the penalties would be and I don't think any of our members or officers of the organization could withstand the financial penalty," he said.

He said postal workers won't take out their frustrations on Canadians.

"Will there be bitterness going back? Certainly not towards members of the public, but our members will certainly be bitter toward management," he said.

"It's a winner-take-all and when you have parties that have a history and will have for the future, a winner-take-all doesn't bode well for labour relations."

The House of Commons was expected to break for the summer on Thursday but all parties said they were prepared to keep sitting through the weekend to get the bill passed.

Passage of the legislation could theoretically result in postal service resuming in Canada some time next week.

While the Conservatives intended used their majority numbers to cut short discussion on how the bill should be debated, government House leader Peter Van Loan said there would be no restrictions on the length of debate on the bill itself.

"If everyone wants to co-operate, we could finish as early as Thursday or early into Friday, but if the other parties are determined to prolong this matter, we could be sitting into the weekend," Van Loan said Wednesday.

The government tabled back-to-work legislation on Monday after Canada Post locked out the union, claiming rotating strikes that began on June 3 were costing the company tens of millions of dollars in lost business.