10/21/2011 06:00 EDT | Updated 12/21/2011 05:12 EST

Posties win round in fight with government over selection of arbitrator

OTTAWA - Postal workers have won a round in their battle with the federal government.

A judge has agreed to put arbitration proceedings on hold for three months after the Canadian Union of Postal Workers objected to the government's choice of arbitrator.

The Federal Court of Canada is scheduled to hear full arguments on the matter in January.

Federal back-to-work legislation passed in June forced postal workers to accept wages that amounted to less than Canada Post's last offer.

On other issues, the law imposed a form of winner-take-all arbitration in which CUPW and the corporation will each make a final offer, one of which will be accepted.

In July, the government appointed Coulter Osborne, a retired judge, as arbitrator.

The union says Osborne is an inappropriate selection because he lacks the necessary experience in labour relations and, as a unilingual anglophone, will not understand francophone witnesses.

In his ruling dated Thursday, Federal Court Justice Luc Martineau agreed with the union's request to put the proceedings on hold.

Martineau noted the arbitrator in such proceedings is usually chosen by the parties — or at least acceptable to both sides.

"This decision shows that the union is on the right track," said Denis Lemelin, CUPW National President and chief negotiator. "We are questioning the process by which this government has forced its will on postal workers."

Canada Post was less pleased, suggesting the ruling jeopardizes the company's financial viability.

"This decision further delays any conclusion to the current round of arbitration...to the long-term detriment of the company," said spokesperson Jon Hamilton.

"Urgent action is required to address Canada Post's labour cost structure in order to help protect the long-term sustainability of the corporation."

The union is mounting a separate legal challenge against the legislation that forced members back to work.

Postal workers began a series of rotating strikes in early June. Canada Post brought mail delivery to a complete halt by locking out employees less than two weeks later.