DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: On Thursday, June 23, the Canadian Parliament convened to act on legislation that will force Canada Post workers to return to the job, following an extended debate over a high-profile and unresolved labor dispute between workers and management. At the time the story was published, members continued debating the bill into the night, as there were talks of a potential compromise, though opposition members would not be in a position to reverse the back-to-work legislation. The day before, demonstrations were held outside the headquarters of Canada Post, the country’s principal mail carrier, in opposition to government interference in mediating the conflict over a proposed two-tier wage system. Critics accused Canada Post management of collusion with the state, saying they decided to lock the doors on striking workers after learning that the Conservative majority government would introduce back-to-work legislation in order to force a deal and end what it is describing as a developing economic crisis. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt of the ruling Conservative Party defended the government’s move in Thursday’s parliamentary debate, saying that the Canadian public could stand much to lose if postal service was not promptly restored.
LISA RAITT, MINISTER OF LABOUR: If the strike is prolonged, some of those businesses could go under, jobs could be lost, and some of the job losses could be permanent. But can we afford this disruption at a time when our economy is still recovering? Many of our citizens depend on the services of Canada Post to receive essential government information and benefits. In fact, everyone will be affected by the work stoppage. But people with disabilities, elderly people, and people who live in remote communities will be hurt the most. This strike will cause undue real hardship to many Canadians. So the next question in their minds is: what is the government going to do about it? Now, the answer is that we have made the difficult decision to end the strike with back-to-work legislation and binding arbitration.
DOUGHERTY: The workers, however, urge the distinction between a lockout and a strike, and argued that they had taken proper measures to ensure that the postal service would not be shut down entirely.
MARIE CLARKE WALKER, EXECUTIVE VP, CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS: The workers went on a rotating strike for a reason: they didn’t want to inconvenience the public. So they shut down places 24 hours at a time. They’ve had guarantees that they would deliver the social assistance checks. They had guarantees that they weren’t going to disrupt the entire postal system. And then the company came and basically said to the workers, we really don’t care what you think, we’re going to lock you out. And so on Tuesday morning or Tuesday night, they came and they locked out the workers.
DOUGHERTY: For many workers, the Parliament’s intervention, which also initially proposed lower wages than those offered by Canada Post, constitutes a threat to the workers’ rights to collective bargaining.
ROBERT VINZE, LETTER CARRIER, CANADA POST: My biggest concern here with the labor dispute that we’re having right now is that entrenched into the UN accord is we have the right to free and collective bargaining. It’s also installed in our Charter of Rights in this country that we have the right to free bargaining. And the demand for us to return to work on a legislated and arbitrated agreement (I wouldn’t even call it that; it is something that is going to be enforced upon us) also violates the labor code of this country. And this is a central issue right at this point in time, that our Conservative government is giving up on the free and democratic process that this country was built on. And that is my concern. I’m–there are so many other concerns.
DOUGHERTY: Under the two-tier wage proposal, newly hired workers would receive lower wages than those with seniority. Additionally, changes in the pension fund could result in significant lower pensions for retired workers. John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council, worries about the impacts that such a deal will have on future generations of workers and what he sees as a process that extends beyond just Canada Post.
JOHN CARTWRIGHT, PRESIDENT, TORONTO AND YORK REGION LABOUR COUNCIL: But really the protest is about something much bigger, and that is that CEOs across this country have determined the next generation of Canadians don’t deserve to have the same wages or benefits or the right to retire as people like me now. And the only thing that’s standing up to those CEOs are workers on the front lines, whether they’re at Air Canada, Canada Post, or a small hotel on Wilson Avenue, where they wanted to cut wages for new hires who are barely making a living wage today. It’s the same fight all across this country in every city. It’s ironic that it’s a year ago the G-20 was in Toronto, and the main result of the G-20 was a consensus of those government leaders for an austerity agenda to be imposed on the people, no matter what the people felt about it. And the attacks on public sector unions, the gutting of public services, is part of that austerity agenda. So this is really a symptom of the efforts of those CEOs, the global CEOs, and their politicians to drive down standards of working people all across this globe.
DOUGHERTY: Striking workers from Air Canada recently returned to work after reaching a tentative negotiated settlement in another significant Canadian labor conflict where the government threatened to order them back to work. Canadian workers are concerned that government intervention in these two high-profile labor disputes will set a pattern for future labor negotiations across the country. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.
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