Postal bill draws union ire

Wage increases, term determined in legislation

Canadian unions were rallying around the postal workers last week as it appeared unlikely they could come to an agreement with Canada Post and likely they would be legislated back to work.

The bill that would end the lock-out is similar in many respects to other back-to-work legislation: an immediate end to the work stoppage, binding arbitration and fines for disruptions. In other ways it is not: the binding arbitration will be final offer selection, four years of wage increases are specified in the bill and the constraints on the arbitrator’s discretion are numerous.

These constraints include making the collective agreement more consistent with “other postal services,” providing flexibility to ensure the viability of Canada Post, ensuring the solvency of the pension plan, and not forcing Canada Post to raise rates.

The wage increases (1.75%, 1.5%, 2.0%, 2.0%) are laid down in the bill and are lower than Canada Post’s most recent offer of 1.9%, 1.9%, 1.9%, 2.0%.

Oddly, there is also a provision that neither the choice of arbitrator nor the arbitrator’s award may be challenged in court.

It is not unknown for governments to stipulate criteria that interest arbitrators must take into consideration in their awards; Ontario has done so for the binding arbitration regime in the health sector, for instance. But the guidelines here are quite specific and go directly to union demands.

Individual unions and labour bodies are decrying the back-to-work legislation as “utter contempt for free collective bargaining” (CEP), a “short-term, coercive fix” (NUPGE), “a deliberate action to lower wages and erode benefits” (CUPE) and “serv[ing] to further poison already acrimonious labour relations” (CLC).

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