For a moment it seemed as though American politics had moved North. People all over our great nation asked, what on earth is a filibuster, why is the NDP sleeping in the House of Commons, and are the Bloc really allowed to drink scotch there?
Over one weekend, the NDP staged an epic 58-hour filibuster (think delay-of-game penalty), the Conservative majority approved back-to-work legislation, and postal workers were sent back to work with a great deal less than they had hoped for. This put an end (seemingly) to an unfortunate situation for Canada Post, the CUPW, and the Conservative government. Summing up the situation, a close friend of mine and Canada Post Employee updated his Facebook status thus, “Disillusioned with the Conservatives, Canada Post and CUPW but that’s life…”
For those standing on the sidelines and those personally affected by the labour dispute, the situation has been handled poorly by all three parties: the CUPW, Canada Post, and the Conservative government.
It is hard to understand the demands made by CUPW: a wage increase of 3.3 per cent in the first year, followed by an increase of 2.75 per cent for the next three years. It is simply perplexing to think that Canada Post Workers need a raise of 11.5 per cent over the next four years. With the dawn of that new fangled electronic-mail and online billing, the CUPW should be aware that the mail system has quickly become antiquated. It seems to me that the only thing the strike/lock-out has produced is a realization in many citizens that Canada Post is a non-essential service.
Since 2006, the amount of mail delivered by Canada Post has dropped by 17 per cent, and Canada Post projects a 30 per cent decline in the next 5 years. At the same time, approximately 200,000 new addresses are added each year in Canada, resulting in an increased number of carriers needed. The result is less profit and increased operating costs. Generally, when a business (yes, Canada Post is a business) sees profit margins falling and operating costs increasing, it is an inopportune time for an employee to ask for a raise. If I were a member of the CUPW, I would be more concerned about the future of my job than a pay raise.
At the same time, Canada Post has handled the situation poorly. In a rapidly changing marketplace, Canada Post has failed to diversify their services. Many other national postal services have adapted, yet Canada Post has fallen behind. For example, Deutsche Post in Germany designs and prints flyers and advertisements for customers, and even sells stamps online that can be printed at home. In South Africa the post office can accept payment for auto-insurance and traffic tickets. The Israeli postal service offers foreign exchange and simple banking. These examples are just a few ways in which foreign postal services have diversified in the midst of a decline. Why hasn’t Canada Post done the same? It is no wonder that Canada Post is in a downward spiral and faces the difficult decision of cutting wages and benefit packages. On the other hand, the situation is not all too horrid for Canada Post; they have still managed to turn a yearly profit over the last 15 years. So the question is are they being financially responsible or just plain stingy with their employees?
After 14 days the Conservative government ordered the CUPW back to work. One has to wonder why the Conservatives would take such a heavy-handed approach. Sure, the strike has had a financial impact, but was it so detrimental to the economic health of the nation that it was necessary to intervene? The government had many other options available and should have encouraged further negotiation. It seems to be that the Parliamentary Summer recess played a role in the decision made by the Conservatives. It is likely that if nothing had been done and the work stoppage continued while the MP’s were enjoying an 87 day break (following a lengthy 34 day session), there may have been a need to recall Parliament (horrors!). It seems that the Conservative government just wanted the situation to go away, and was willing to sacrifice fair process, cooperative mediation, and workers rights.
It seems as though there is no black and white answer to the problems facing Canada Post and the CUPW. Unfortunately, it is likely that we have not heard the end of this situation.