NEWS
06/23/2011 06:48 EDT | Updated 08/23/2011 05:12 EDT

Canada Post Talks Head To Overtime, Back-To-Work Legislation Debate Lingers On

CP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Bad weather never keeps a postal worker from his appointed rounds, and the chance to go home and enjoy some summer weather isn't keeping MPs from their official tasks either.

Parliamentarians were preparing Thursday to go long into the night to pass legislation that would see Canada's locked-out mail workers sent back on their routes.

Talks between the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and Canada Post broke down late Wednesday and now odds-makers are wagering on how long it will take the Conservative government to force them back on the job.

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.

Thursday was scheduled to be the final day of the parliamentary session and if the House were to adjourn without the legislation being passed, it couldn't be considered again until the fall.

The government says the bill is necessary because the lockout is damaging the economy and they're prepared to stay as long as it takes to pass it.

The Opposition New Democrats had initially suggested they would stall passage of the bill to give the two sides more time to come up with an agreement on their own.

But now that talks have collapsed, the NDP is focusing on amendments.

The postal union is seeking a change that could 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.

Critics are also uncomfortable with the wage provisions in the bill, saying they are inferior to the last offer Canada Post had on the table.

"That's like trying to poke people in the eye, I think all Canadians should be a little worried about that approach that Stephen Harper seems to be willing to take," said NDP Leader Jack Layton.

"It's particularly nasty and certainly is bad faith when it comes to bargaining and discussion of workers' standard of living."

The Conservatives didn't rule out amendments.

"I don't have any amendments that have been presented to me formally," said Labour Minister Lisa Raitt.

"We're getting to that point in time where we're starting to debate the bill. I'm sure there's going to be stuff coming forward. We'll take a look at them."

A union spokesman said talks collapsed in part because the legislation removed any incentive for Canada Post to compromise.

The government is siding with them, said George Kuehnbaum, CUPW national secretary treasurer.

"They are the shareholder of the corporation," he said.

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

The company said in a news release that the two sides remained far apart on several issues after 72 hours of negotiations.

Raitt 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."