Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – Canada Post-why the rush to intervene? June 23, 2011

Ottawa ON – With all the rhetoric surrounding the Conservative government’s introduction of back to work legislation, its worth looking at previous government reaction to strikes at Canada Post.

There is a long history of troubled labour relations at the corporation, for example, there were some 19 strikes, lockouts and walkouts between 1965 and 1997, but major postal shutdowns are rare. For instance, the last time this union went on a full scale strike was in the fall of 1997.  At that time, the strike ended two weeks later after the Liberal government brought in back to work legislation.

Fourteen days is not a long time, but it was considerably shorter than a couple of previous strikes which lasted 43 days in 1975 and 42 days in 1981. In 1978, the union went on a legal strike and was legislated back by the Liberal government on the very first day.

The scenario today isn’t much different, except the public is far less inconvenienced. Technology has replaced the crucial need for the delivery of paper bills, email is replacing “snail mail” and there has been little outcry from average Canadians about the impact of the strike on their lives.

The present mail disruptions began on June 2, 2011. This involved a series of rotating strikes which began in Winnipeg. On June 14, 2011 Canada Post announced a lockout. With the introduction of the present legislation, mail disruption, full or partial (whether union or management generated) will have lasted approximately 21 days unless the NDP manages to delay the legislation further.

One can certainly argue the difference between a legal strike and a lock out, but in both cases there was plenty of warning that either the union or the corporation was going to take action. One would assume that the majority of businesses that rely on Canada Post would have taken steps to prepare for a disruption in service. For example, banks, department stores, utilities and others blitzed their customers with advertisements on how to sign up for online billing. There are also plenty of other services able to pick up some of the slack including courier companies, rail, and truck and bus lines.

There is always a cost to a strike and during this strike Canada Post announced it was losing millions of dollars. There is nothing unusual in that as that is one of the pressures a strike places on management, just as loss of wages hurts the striking workers. Its one of the reasons both sides negotiate a settlement.

For its part government has a range of options at its disposal including mediation and arbitration. This time around the government is using a sledge hammer when a full and complete shutdown of postal services has only lasted nine days. One can question the necessity of any intervention at this point. Certainly there is an economic impact from this strike, there is from every strike, On the one hand the government keeps telling us that we have the strongest economy of western nations, now they are telling us one full postal shutdown lasting just nine days will have dire consequences for the nation. I might have missed it, but I don’t recall seeing any economic numbers to back up their claim. How many other strikes will they intervene in now? Every strike impacts on the economy of an area, region or town.

Is it the pending summer parliamentary recess that is driving the government agenda? To allow the lockout/strike to continue into the break would have meant a potential recall of parliament during the summer. Our MPs have worked a grand total of 34 days this session and are about to embark on an 87 day break. Would it have hurt them to come back for a few days if there was an absolute breakdown in negotiations? If given more time could there have been a negotiated settlement such as happened in 2007?

The need for government intervention also brings up another issue. Should the government be looking at privatizing Canada Post as has been done in Germany? Is there a business case for doing so? Is the present structure the most efficient? Whatever the case, the full repercussions from this lockout/strike haven’t been felt yet.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

James Moak

 

5 Responses to "Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – Canada Post-why the rush to intervene? June 23, 2011"

  1. Adam   June 23, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    There is indeed a necessity for government interference, and one no one is considering because it affects the one group of people no one ever pays attention to these days…small businesses.

    Small businesses pay for many goods and services…and get paid…via cheque. And how does that cheque get from one party to the other? Mail. Yes, there are electronic forms of payment, but the Canadian banking system makes it inconvenient and far too expensive for us to process these forms of payment without losing our shirts. And yes, there are non-mail forms of paying for things, but who wants to spend $10-$15 to send a $100 cheque from one end of Toronto to the other via FedEx or UPS or Canpar or (insert shipper here)?

    So yes, there is a very good reason for back to work legislation and it needs to happen now. I don’t like the Harper government much, but this makes sense and should have been implemented right from the beginning.

  2. Craig   June 23, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    I find your views very left wing and in no part taking in to account the small business, charities and elderly that do indeed depend on primary mail services. Should the public be forced to use more expensive alternatives because a tiny percentage of the population feels they are entitled to more… more than significant wage and benefits they all ready receive. If you believe it hasn’t had an impact go to those small independents, the charities and ask them if they are feeling. The Government must represent all of Canada. Not the privileged union workers and the rest of Canada should not suffer… in any way, small or large scale… due to a union despite. The Conservatives were elected with majority for a reason and the only reason NDP got as many votes as they did was due to the Liberal leadership during that election. Canada has spoken up with there votes and we are sick of being held hostage by unions who already receive more than the average skilled workforce for performing unskilled tasks.

  3. smee   June 23, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    high fives to both of you….

  4. Eric   June 23, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    Emailing invoices right now cuts down cost and delivery time. Grandma can purchase an ITunes gift card and email the number with a birthday wish for Jane, people can stay in touch with skype even. Some users will not come back and more time will just increase that number.

  5. Pearl   June 23, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    Yes, agree with Adam and Craig. I have a small business and my sales have stopped since the beginning of the rotating strike. Customers are worried things will escalate and parcels stuck in the mail, and they were CORRECT!

    Other couriers are too expensive for shipping light weight items – although I just found an alternative that looks viable. The Canadian government must make decisions based on ALL Canadians, not just the select groups or just the unions. And they need to look at essential services differently as well as each case on its own merit. In this case, most people do not agree with CUPW, especially the majority of the postal workers. See how many postal employees are actually on the picket line? And how many are their buddies from other unions that are not actually postal workers?

    It is not fair for the union of the 60’s to cause the loss of business and revenue for CPC and the Canadian small businesses. They are not OUR union. I think if any union and management cannot successfully negotiate a deal after some time period, they should automatically go to arbitration, without strikes or lockout. It goes to arbitration in the end anyway, skip the damaging strikes.

    You really need to do some ground research before you publish. The news is supposed to be objective, not about just your opinions. Anyone can write their own opinions but journalists are supposed to research, get all sides and present that to the public for their own conclusions.

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