NEWS
06/25/2011 07:52 EDT | Updated 08/25/2011 05:12 EDT

Canada Post Back-To-Work-Bill Passes House Of Commons

CBC

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Mail service should resume within days after weary members of the House of Commons ended a 58-hour marathon filibuster by passing back-to-work legislation for locked-out Canada Post employees.

The Conservative benches erupted in cheers and back-slapping as the final vote was held Saturday night, signalling that the official Opposition New Democrats had folded their tent on a decision the party's deputy leader called "pre-ordained."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper emerged from the chamber with Labour Minister Lisa Raitt to say his government had prevailed in the court of public opinion.

"We know what side the public was on and I think today members of Parliament on the other side finally started to get that message," said Harper.

Calling the three days of round-the-clock debate in Parliament "a completely unnecessary delay," Harper said he was "nevertheless pleased that soon Canadians will again have access to their postal service, particularly small businesses and charities."

A special sitting of the Conservative-dominated Senate is expected to give the bill Royal Assent by late Sunday afternoon. It was not immediately clear how soon the mail would start moving as Canada Post would not comment because the bill was still before Parliament.

The government had tabled the back-to-work bill 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.

The legislation actually provides members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers slightly lower wages than the last offer from Canada post. It also restricts an arbitrator to choosing between the final offers — winner take all — of the two negotiating parties on other matters.

There had been hope that the bill would spur the two sides to reach an agreement on their own; Air Canada and its union settled only hours after the Tories announced a back-to-work bill on that dispute earlier this month.

But talks between the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and management collapsed late Wednesday, and a final half-hour discussion Saturday morning did nothing to close the gap.

New Democrats, who could have used procedural and filibuster tactics to drag the debate well into next week, saw the writing on the wall.

While they stood and applauded one another throughout the losing vote, many NDP MPs were clearly deflated by the outcome.

An ashen-faced Jack Layton, the NDP leader, declined to speak to reporters after the vote, leaving deputy leader Thomas Mulcair to put a brave face on the defeat.

He said the NDP sent "a shot across the bow of the Conservatives" on the issue of ramming through legislation without debate, while at the same time providing some extra time for the union and Canada Post to attempt a negotiated settlement.

But given the nature of the back-to-work bill, Mulcair said Canada Post had no incentive to cut a deal.

He said Canadians should take note of what transpired.

"It's an indication of what's to come for other public service workers who are unionized," said Mulcair. "But it's also a signal from the Conservatives to all employers — in a union setting or otherwise — that it's an open bar. They can start going after the acquired rights of their workers."

The House, which had been set to rise on Thursday for the summer recess, adjourned immediately after the vote.

A union spokesman said Thursday 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," said George Kuehnbaum, CUPW national secretary treasurer.

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 Crown corporation has said the main sticking point in the dispute was 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.

Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press