OTTAWA — Labour Minister Patty Hajdu defended the constitutionality of the Liberal government's back-to-work bill for Canada Post workers on Tuesday, saying it will ultimately be up to the courts to weigh in should the legislation be legally challenged by the union.
Speaking on Parliament Hill, Hajdu defended her government's decision to bring forward legislation to respond to a "significant, growing economic harm" to Canada.
The bill received royal assent on Monday with senators approving Bill C-89 by a vote of 53-25, with four abstentions.
In response, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers said it is exploring all options to fight it.
"After 37 days of rotating strikes, unconstitutional legislation has removed the right to strike for postal workers," it said in a statement. "Legal strike action ends at noon today, but the struggle is not over."
The union also said it has asked its members to return to their regularly scheduled shifts as noon Tuesday but said in the coming days it will call on its allies and members for a campaign including "mobilizations, demonstrations and non-violent civil disobedience."
"All options remain on the table to achieve negotiated collective agreements that address health and safety, inequitable treatment, fair wages and working conditions, and the democratic right to free collective bargaining," it said.
Hajdu said Tuesday the Liberal government is confident it was indeed the appropriate time to move forward with legislation, adding there wasn't a way forward otherwise for the two sides.
"Obviously the Senate has done the work that they need to do and the legislation has passed," Hajdu said. "That will be up to the courts to decide if the union decides to challenge the legislation."
Group representing businesses praises move
In 2016, CUPW won a legal challenge of back-to-work legislation in Ontario Superior Court.
However, Hajdu insisted Tuesday that the previous bill, introduced by the former Conservative government, was very different than that passed by her government.
Specifically, she said the Liberal government's bill did not dictate how a number of issues should be settled.
She also said it appoints an mediator-arbitrator to be chosen either through the consensus of the two parties or in an independent way through advice given to her.
Earlier Tuesday, a group representing Canadian businesses praised the federal government for legislating postal employees back to work, saying it will help clear hefty backlogs of mail ahead of the busy holiday season.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said it was pleased Ottawa listened to business owners, who described the postal strike as "an emergency for many small firms and for Canadian consumers."
Federation president Dan Kelly said 71 per cent of members it surveyed supported back-to-work legislation after two-thirds of small businesses reported they had been negatively affected by the strike.
"Back to work legislation is never an easy choice, but it will help salvage the holiday season for small firms and consumers," he said in the statement.
Mail service was scheduled to resume Tuesday at noon Eastern after the Senate passed legislation ordering an end to five weeks of rotating strikes by postal workers.
Negotiations had been underway for nearly a year, but the dispute escalated more recently when CUPW members launched rotating strikes Oct. 22.
The walkouts have led to backlogs of mail and parcel deliveries at the Crown corporation's main sorting plants in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.