The Trudeau government signalled Monday it was willing to give Canada Post a couple more days to settle a labour dispute with its employees despite pressure from business to end rotating strikes that have caused a month-long backlog of undelivered parcels and mail.
As Canada Post emerged from a weekend stalemate with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers over its latest contract offers, the Crown corporation issued another proposal: it would agree to mediation with the union, but only if its striking workers ended their walkouts during a so-called “cooling off” period.
It also called for binding arbitration if no settlement is reached by the end of January.
Within minutes of CUPW’s rejection of that proposal, federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu renewed her call for the two sides to continue bargaining, but did not respond directly to reporters’ questions about back-to-work legislation.
“We’ve encouraged (both sides) to work together, we’ve appointed special mediators,” Hajdu said on her way into the House of Commons. “They are not open to voluntary arbitration, so we’re reviewing the evidence right now and we’ll have more to say in the days to come.”
Soon afterward, Canada Post said it had amended its proposal for a “cooling off” period, dropping the notion of binding arbitration.
In an earlier statement, CUPW national president Mike Palecek said the union wasn’t holding rotating strikes to harm the public.
But Palecek said he would not ask his members to return to work under conditions that effectively have some employees working without compensation.
“The proposal asks our members to go back to work at the heaviest and most stressful time of year, under the same conditions that produce the highest injury rate in the federal sector,” he said in a statement. “It asks women to continue to do work for free. How can we do that?”
Canada Post proposed the cooling off period as pressure mounted to resolve the ongoing labour dispute ahead of the busy Christmas delivery season.
In a statement, the Crown corporation said it wanted CUPW members to put down their picket signs while talks are on, and offered a special payment of up to $1,000 for each member if the union agreed.
“With the rotating strikes, resulting backlogs, and the massive Black Friday and Cyber Monday volumes that will arrive within days, we are trying everything we can to work together with the union – urgently – to deliver the holidays to Canadians,” Jessica McDonald, chair of the board of directors and interim president and CEO of Canada Post, said in the statement. “This proposal also includes a way for the parties to resolve their differences and these negotiations.”
Canada Post said it would start talks “with a jointly agreed, government-appointed mediator,” while reinstating both its collective agreements with CUPW during the cooling off period.
If an agreement were not reached by Jan. 31, the corporation said a mediator would provide recommendations for settlement. If the sides didn’t agree, it said binding arbitration would follow. But a Canada Post spokesman said McDonald dropped the binding arbitration element from the proposal in an e-mail sent to Palecek Monday afternoon.
The Canada Post proposal came as its workers continued their rotating strikes Monday after rejecting the Crown agency’s latest offer and also requested the government appoint a mediator to help end the ongoing dispute.
The union had let pass a time-sensitive proposal from Canada Post meant to stop the strikes affecting about 42,000 urban employees and 8,000 rural and suburban carriers.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a last-minute plea to the two sides to resolve their differences, just hours before a midnight deadline on the Crown corporation’s latest offers expired.
The strikes have created a huge backlog of undelivered mail, prompting some businesses to plead for a resolution.
The Retail Council of Canada urged Ottawa to “bring an immediate end” to the rotating strikes through back-to-work legislation.
Elections BC, meantime, said it was assessing the impact the strikes could have on British Columbia’s electoral reform referendum, which allows ballots to be mailed in.
Canada Post says the suspension of strikes could allow it to begin reducing the massive backlog of mail and parcels now sitting in hundreds of trailers at sorting centres across the country.