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The Globe and Mail

Tories willing to delay summer break to get Canada Post back to work

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on June 16, 2011.

BLAIR GABLE/The Globe and Mail

The Conservative government is vowing to legislate an end to the Canada Post lockout even if it means extending the Parliamentary session and overriding the strong objections from labour and the opposition.

With only four sitting days left until the House of Commons is scheduled to break for summer, the Conservatives are serving notice that they want the 2011 budget bill and back-to-work legislation for Canada Post passed by Thursday.

Labour is accusing the Conservatives of launching an "assault on workers" for moving so quickly to propose back-to-work legislation to resolve disputes at Canada Post and Air Canada.

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Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said the announcement of the government's intent to legislate an end to the dispute contributed to Thursday's deal at Air Canada. The airline said that workers are expect to return Friday morning. Later on Thursday, Ms. Raitt noted that Canada Post leadership and the union are still talking.

"I'm hoping that will start moving things along too," she said on CTV's Power Play.

The sudden rise of labour as an issue - a bread-and-butter file for the New Democratic Party - is injecting some passion into the political debate after several quiet weeks making good on pledges to improve Parliamentary decorum.

In the House of Commons on Thursday, NDP MP Yvon Godin became so animated in his criticisms of the government's labour policies that he acknowledged a colleague was urging him to relax.

"We're going to fight hard," he told reporters, promising to oppose Canada Post legislation, but giving the government credit for the fact that the Air Canada strike has ended.

Ms. Raitt rejected any suggestion the Conservatives are taking a more pro-management approach to workplace disputes now that they have a majority.

"It has nothing to do with the makeup of the government," she told reporters in Ottawa shortly after the Air Canada deal was reached. "It has everything to do with the parties, whether or not they get a deal and the importance to the economic recovery. We happen to have these two [disputes]come back to back. It is the flow of collective bargaining in Canada."

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NDP Leader Jack Layton and interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae both accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of ignoring the larger issue behind the disputes - the trend of employers moving away from defined benefit - or guaranteed - pension plans for new hires.

"Workers are being left to fend for themselves in a situation where even the largest of employers are saying, 'We are not going to provide for a defined benefit plan any more for your pensions,'" Mr. Rae said. "Does the Prime Minister not understand that what is at stake here is the pensions, not only of these workers, not only of these employees, of these people, it is the pension system in the entire country?"

Poking fun at Mr. Rae's past as NDP premier of Ontario, Mr. Harper said his answer was the same to "both NDP leaders."

"Our position has nothing to do with the interests of management or the interests of workers," he said. "It has to do with the wider interests of the Canadian economy and the Canadian population."

Canada Post, a federal crown corporation, locked out its workforce of about 50,000 on Wednesday after rotating strikes by the union.

The labour dispute is over a management proposal for a two-tier wage and pension system that would be less generous for new hires. Management also wants to raise the age for receiving a full pension to 60 from 55 for future employees.

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The postal workers are represented by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. However, Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza, who represents the Air Canada workers, said Canada's labour movement needs to take stock of the Conservative government's actions. He said the government's use of back to work legislation is "immoral" and Canada Post's lockout is "ridiculous."

"The government was going to use their majority government in the Parliament quite frankly to weaken the bargaining positions of the union," he said. "That's the whole intent of legislative changes in the government and we quite frankly find that very distasteful and we find it immoral and we find it unconstitutional...

"I would suggest, and I won't speak for [Canadian Labour Congress president]Ken Georgetti, but at the conclusion of this, the heads of unions at the provincial level and the national level will have to start asking ourselves whether we ought to be challenging the government on a constitutional front and from an activism front, because this is an assault on workers."

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