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Bill C-6, Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians

 

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald moved second reading of Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services.

He said: Honourable senators, as you are all aware, after 12 days of rotating strikes, Canada Post initiated a lockout. This work stoppage comes after many rounds of collective bargaining, during which Canada Post and the postal workers union failed to close the gaps between their positions and reach a settlement.

For many months now, federal mediators worked with the two sides to find a solution. Unfortunately, the employer and union have been unable to finalize a new collective agreement. Accordingly, the government has decided to take action and table legislation that will bring an end to the work stoppage.

Just when our economy is in the early stages of recovery, and in view of the serious consequences of paralyzing the postal services, the country can ill afford a work stoppage. This legislation, once enacted, will bring an end to the lockout at Canada Post.

What is at stake is our economic recovery. Right now, our country has reason to be optimistic. Our country has experienced the strongest economic growth among the G7 countries since mid-2009. All the job losses incurred during the global economic recession have been recovered. Now is not the time to jeopardize our momentum. We have a duty to act on behalf of all Canadians.

It is always better when the two parties can reach a collective agreement at the bargaining table without the need for Parliament's intervention. The best solution in any labour dispute is one where the parties resolve differences themselves.

In this case, unfortunately, the parties are too far apart.

We could let the situation deteriorate and see businesses fail, unemployment increase and our economy falter, or the Government of Canada can take decisive action on behalf of all Canadians.

This bill imposes a four-year contract and new pay rate increases. It will mean a 1.75 per cent increase as of February 1, 2011, 1.5 per cent as of February 2012, 2 per cent as of February 2013 and 2 per cent as of February 2014. It also provides for final offer selection, a binding mechanism, on all outstanding matters.

Furthermore, in making the selection of a final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries.

The arbitrator will also provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short- and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation, maintain the health and safety of its workers, and ensure the sustainability of its pension plan.

The terms and conditions of employment must also take into account, first, that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of a new collective agreement; and, second, that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.

Let us remember that the last postal strike happened in 1997 and lasted for 15 days. Since then, reliance on postal service has experienced a decline in personal mail and the growth in the use of the Internet, email, electronic billing and electronic funds transfer. However, small- and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on the postal service for direct marketing, billing and filling orders.

Canada Post is a Crown corporation and is one of the largest employers in Canada. It employs more than 70,000 full- and part-time employees. Every business day, Canada Post delivers about 40 million items and provides service to 14 million addresses. Canada Post, like any commercial enterprise, has to offer dependable service, generate revenue, control costs and maintain an efficient operation. By the same token, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is trying to gain the best salary and working conditions for its members.

The labour dispute between Canada Post and CUPW relates to the renewal of a collective agreement covering some 50,000 workers, including plant and retail employees, letter carriers and mail service couriers. The collective agreement between CUPW and Canada Post expired on January 2011. Both parties had been bargaining since October 2010. When those talks stayed at an impasse, a conciliation officer was appointed.

The conciliation period was extended until early May. During that time, the conciliation officer again met with the parties. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the Labour Program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties.

Despite all these efforts at mediation and conciliation, and Minister Raitt meeting with the both party leaders, on May 30 CUPW announced its intention to strike. On June 3, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers walked off the job, and on June 15, 2011, the employer declared a lookout.

To recap, the postal workers have now been without a contract since January 2011, despite many rounds of bargaining.

Sometimes collective bargaining hits an impasse. It is unfortunate when the employer and the union cannot hammer out a mutual collective agreement. However, when that happens, the parties can request the Minister of Labour to appoint an arbitrator.

Honourable senators, under normal circumstances, the Government of Canada does not intervene in labour disputes. Our government respects the right to free collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike or lockout. Parliament will stand aside if there is no serious harm to the national economy or public health and safety. However, when employers and unions choose a course of action that has harmful effects on the economy and the country as a whole, then Parliament has the right to weigh a strike or lockout against the rights of all Canadians.

What would be the effects of a prolonged postal disruption? Let us come to terms with the fact that Canada Post is a major employer across the country. It spends about $3 billion a year on goods and services. It contributes $6.6 billion a year to the country's GDP. Canada Post's direct marketing sector accounts for $1.4 billion of its revenue. During the recent economic recession, this sector suffered financial losses. Canadian retailers depend on Canada Post to reach their customers. The Canadian magazine industry relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution.

Canada Post also offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. Often, Canada Post offices are the centre of a community's daily life. While rural letter carriers are not part of the current bargaining dispute, rural communities could still be affected since no sorting or bulk distribution of post will take place.

People with disabilities have transportation and accessibility barriers that may well affect their ability to receive goods and services. Shopping online and catalogue shopping still rely on the postal service to get the goods from the seller to the buyer.

Honourable senators, will we stand by and see some of the most vulnerable sectors of our economy affected by a prolonged work stoppage at Canada Post? What would the effects on Canada Post be as a viable business?

As we recover from the economic downturn, it is more important than ever that we encourage cooperative and productive workplaces. Let us support Canadians who have recently gone through a recession and are hoping to make some gains for their families. Let us support this back-to-work legislation. Let us keep our economy working. Let us look to the future. I ask honourable senators for their support today for this proposed legislation.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!