The Liberal government is facing pressure from worried retailers and the Conservative opposition to legislate an end to rotating strikes at Canada Post as the busy holiday shopping season approaches.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) rejected a contract offer that expired at midnight Saturday, instead submitting its own proposal for a settlement and calling for the federal government to appoint a new mediator.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement on Twitter late Saturday, urging the two sides to reach a deal at the bargaining table. However, a spokeswoman for Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said Sunday the government “will consider all options" to reach a solution.
“The holiday season is here and Canadians and businesses are relying on Canada Post even more," Ms. Hajdu’s press secretary, Veronique Simard, said in an e-mailed statement Sunday.
“Both parties have been involved in discussions for nearly a year and we continue to urge them to reach a deal in order reduce the impacts on Canadians, businesses, Canada Post and their workers,” she said.
CUPW says it wants better safety protections to reduce the high level of on-the-job injuries suffered by its members, and equal pay for urban and rural postal workers. It launched a series of rotating strikes this fall that has resulted in a growing backlog of undelivered parcels.
Canada Post has had to tell post offices in the United States, Britain and China to hold back deliveries in order to avoid swamping the system.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Retail Council of Canada urged the government to legislate an agreement and send postal workers back to work.
"Canadians can no longer rely upon our nation’s postal service to deliver the goods that they need,” Retail Council chief executive Diane Brisebois wrote in a letter released Sunday.
She noted that Canada Post has already reported a backlog of 30 days with 600 trailers waiting to be unloaded and that this backlog will mount as volumes are expected to double as the holiday shopping season kicks off with American Thanksgiving this week.
“[The] Black Friday/Cyber Monday period has also become by far the most important period of the year for Canadians buying other goods that they require, from winter clothing to appliances. This disruption and service failure to Canadians is our greatest concern. Help us save the holidays for Canadian consumers," the statement said.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer noted that, in the past, previous Conservative governments passed back-to-work legislation and imposed a collective agreement on the two sides when disruptions in services were hurting small business and the ability of Canadians to pay bills or receive cheques in the mail.
“It’s been no secret that this was brewing and the government has failed to act,” Mr. Scheer told a news conference in Ottawa on Sunday.
CUPW president Mike Palecek said previous legislated settlements by the Conservatives created the problems that are now at the centre of the dispute by failing to deal with the issues that had been brought forward by the union at that time.
He said Canada Post’s incidence of workplace injuries is five times the rate for other federally regulated companies, and twice as high as the next highest one.
Mr. Palecek said he remains hopeful that the two sides have narrowed their differences and could reach an agreement with the help of a federally appointed mediator.
The union president acknowledged that retailers are being hurt by the rotating strikes over the past five weeks.
“But we’re frustrated, too,” he said. “We also rely on Canada Post for our livelihood.”
Ottawa did appoint a mediator this fall, and that process led to Canada Post’s offer which expired on the weekend. The union did not put that proposal to its membership for a vote.
For its part, Canada Post would not comment on the union’s call for a new mediator, nor on the Retail Council’s demand for legislation. In an e-mail Sunday, the corporation confirmed its offer had been rejected. “We are now determining next steps,” it said.