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The Canada Post Back-to-Work Legislation

June 20, 2011

The Conservatives certainly have again been busy drafting restrictive labour legislation this week.  Earlier I discussed the  Bill that would have ordered an end to the Air Canada strike had the parties not reached agreement.  Today, the government introduced the legislation that would  order an end to the lockout at Canada Post.  It  is similar to the Air Canada Bill, but is even more detailed in its attempt to control the arbitrator’s discretion.  Here is Bill C-6.

Once again it gives the government (i.e. the Tories) the choice of arbitrators, and imposes Final Offer Selection, which means the arbitrator is limited to selecting either the union proposal or the employer proposal.  One party will “win” and one will “lose”, but in theory both will present proposals that could be accepted, which it is hoped will encourage proposals that are reasonably close to each other.  Unlike the Air Canada Bill, this legislation actually fixes the wages for the next and it imposes a term–the imposed collective agreement will expire on January 31, 2015.  The wage increases are fixed at:  1.75%, 1.5%, 2%, 2% annually, for the term of the agreement.  CUPW is saying that these amounts are less than what Canada Post had offered in bargaining, so that the government is taking the opportunity to pull back what was already on the table.

Section 11(2)  gives direction to the arbitrator:

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 and that will 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, taking into account:

(a) that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of the new collective agreement; and

(b) that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.

Well, we certainly are micro-managing now.   What is a “comparable postal industry” to Canada Post, I wonder?  I presume that the reference to health and safety is a nod to the union’s claim that the employer is trying to impose conditions that are dangerous to workers, and the reference to flexibility and improving productivity without raising postal fees is a nod to the employer’s claims that it needs to compete in an increasingly competitive industry.

Presumably, the parties themselves will raise all of these issues in their submissions to the arbitrator, who obviously will consider them and then choose one or the other package.

Do you think that these parameters imposed on the arbitrator will effect the outcome in any way?

Do you think that this is just politics–a desire to create the impression that the government is directing outcomes?

I like the part about ordering the arbitrator to “ensure the viability of the pension plan”.  If the government knows how to ensure the viability of workers’ pension plans, then THAT would be a good use of legislation!


6 Responses to The Canada Post Back-to-Work Legislation

  1. Kathy Roczkowskyj

    June 21, 2011 at 5:27 am

    On May 17th, CPC offered 1.76%, 1.75%,1.9% and 2%. On May 25th, CPC improved their offer slightly to 1.9%, 1.9%, 1.9% and 2%. The wage increases set in the legislation are less than management’s final offer. CUPW has calculated that our members will lose $35 million over the four year period as a result. In this, Harper has taken a trick from Chretien, who did the same thing in back to work legislation he imposed in the 1990s.

    How will the arbitrator compare postal industries?The US post office is a department of the federal government that is in desperate financial problems. The European post offices are in various stages of privatization. Some are services (like Canada Post) while others are private for profit companies. My guess is that the arbitrator will pick and choose what he or she wants to compare Canada Post to in order to justify his or her decision.

  2. doesn't add up

    June 21, 2011 at 11:46 am

    what exactly is the purpose of locking out employees then forcing them back to work? It certainly is a tidy way to get what you want. How can Canada Post claim to lose $100 million in less than 5 days of lock out? I though that business was on the decline?

  3. Chris Davidson

    June 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I can’t see how this legislation could withstand constiutional scrutiny. The Supreme Court re-affirmed in Fraser that the government cannot simply legislate-away the ability of parties to bargain an important term of employment – legislating wages does exactly that. I can see the courts allowing legislation that directs a labour dispute to arbitration but I cannot see the courts allowing wages to be legislated.

  4. Richard Schwindt

    June 23, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I don’t understand how this works.
    1. The legislation calls for binding, final offer selection (I understand this).
    2. The legislation calls for imposition of a collective agreement that will expire in 2015 (I understand this).

    But, I don’t understand how these work in tandem. Is the imposed collective agreement in place only until the arbitrator reports out? What trumps what?

  5. Kelsey H

    June 24, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Wow very good source of information here, I wish the media would cover things as well as this. The point that the legislated wages are below the management offer is very important and should be reported on.

    My biggest concern however is that the govenment gets to point the arbitrator. Why don’t they just pick a Federal judge by lot to do it? At least that way you can remove the government’s interference from this process and ensure you’re getting someone of high caliber to figure out an arrangement.

    In my life experience in politics, I have never once found that you can trust political actors to make fair appointments of people who have so much known statutory power vested into them (with a judge you don’t KNOW the issue at hand so the ability to do this is less). There’s a reason why we have an all party commons committee to appoint the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada–you simply can’t trust politicians with something so important that needs to remain independent.

    Finally… in terms of arbitration… what’s the history of this process looked like? I can’t think of something else that can be so subjective and place so much power into so few hands. Like really, ultimately the agreed upon wage will just come from the random subjective views of the lawyer doing the arbitrating rather than any real impartial enlightened perspective we’re envisaging such an arbitrator to magically possess.

  6. Steven N.

    July 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    First off I would like to thank the commentator for a good article. All the articles call this back to work legislation and that is what it does. but who is this legislation calling back to work. The union had performed random rotating one and two day localized distruptions and was willing to call it’s members back to work when asked by the Minister of Labor on the condition that it’s members be protected with the previous contract. It was Canada Post Management that refused the Minister’s request and continued the Lock Out. The short title to bill C-6 is Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act and this is more a slap at the Managers of Canada Post then the workers.

    In terms of the legislation itself it seems to be over the top. In saying this I believe that it was more a political statement then fair and just treatment of the labor code. One day the government and the media is stating that the post office is not important anymore and the next it is so important that they have to legislate it back to performing it’s duties. It seems that all gov’ts need a strong Postal system but none are prepared to call it an essential service. As an essential service it would be denied the ability to strike/lockout and the parties would be forced to binding arbitration. Managers of major corporation would then have to bargain in good faith and the gov’ts of the day would not be able to use Canada Post as political cannon fodder.

    An arbitrator has finally be appointed and the process begins.!??? I will be waiting to see if the process is fair and if the parties will in fact bring similar contracts to the table.

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