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labour dispute

Locked out Canada Post workers picket outside Vancouver main post office on June 21, 2011.JASON LEE/Reuters

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt came under fire in the Commons Thursday morning, accused by one opposition MP of "kicking organized labour in the teeth" with legislation aimed at forcing locked-out Canada Post employees back to work.

"Does she not see the folly in her ways?" Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner asked. "In her actions in the last week she has sucker-punched organized labour in this country. And is that what we can expect to see over the course of the next four years?'

Ms. Raitt, who is defending her back-to-work legislation ahead of a vote by MPs, took offence with what she characterized as the Nova Scotia Liberal's "use of violent imagery."

Mr. Cuzner also criticized Ms. Raitt's double play. In addition to the back-to-work bill to end the Canada Post lockout, she had put Air Canada on notice last week that she would bring in legislation to end its strike. The two sides, however, settled before the bill moved forward.

What has angered the opposition most about the Canada Post dispute is that the bill sets wage rates that are lower those the Crown corporation last offered to the union. Defending this, Ms. Raitt noted that in 1997 the Liberals introduced similar legislation that included wage rates lower than those offered by management.

But NDP MP Libby Davies asserted the legislation acts as a disincentive to going to back to the bargaining table as the wage rate has already been set. "Surely this has been done deliberately to preclude any collective bargaining taking place," she said.

Ms. Raitt disagreed, noting the two sides had bargained for 72 hours knowing that the legislation was coming. Yet talks still broke off Wednesday night.

She said that Canadians and the economy is suffering because of the disruption in mail service. And Ms. Raitt says the two sides remain far apart on a number of issues.

Despite what appears to be a tense debate and vows by MPs to sit throughout the weekend to debate what they consider draconian legislation, it is expected the bill will pass the Commons early Friday morning so MPs can return to their ridings for a summer break.

As the Commons debated the merits of the bill, about a dozen supporters of postal workers staged a sit-in at the Ottawa constituency office of Foreign Affairs Minster John Baird. Over the past few days, similar protests have taken place the riding offices of a number of Conservative MPs. The protesters were chatting and reading poetry, according to The Canadian Press, while two police offers were attempting to get them to leave.