OTTAWA – An 11th-hour effort was underway Thursday to avert a work stoppage at Canada Post, even as both sides in the labour dispute dug in their heels, declaring an apparent impasse.
With a strike mandate set to expire at midnight, the federal government stepped in, saying it would appoint a special mediator in hopes of breaking the stalemate.
Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk offered the mediation service late Wednesday after months of bitter disagreement, and encouraged both sides to come together.
“I expect both parties to work with this special mediator to come to a resolution and avoid a work stoppage,” Mihychuk said in a brief statement.
“I continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Officials from both Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers appeared to go into a media lockdown shortly after the minister’s announcement, refusing to say whether there was any room for movement in the talks.
But the union said it was retaining its right to serve the Crown corporation with a 72-hour strike notice should the mediation effort fail before midnight.
As of late Wednesday, the union was accusing Canada Post of stalling the talks by continuing to make unacceptable demands.
The Crown agency also complained Wednesday that union bargainers were being unrealistic.
“The union continues to press for more than $1 billion in demands with no appreciation for the current and troubling future state of the postal service caused by declining mail volumes and increasing pension obligations,” said Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton.
“Canada Post remains committed to negotiating agreements that are fair to our employees, and allow us to continue to provide affordable pricing and service to Canadians.”
A pay equity issue pitting rural and urban carriers against each other and a proposed move from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan for new employees are the main stumbling blocks in the dispute.
The union claims rural postal workers earn, on average, nearly 30 per cent less than city carriers.
“Canada Post’s proposal on pay equity (for rural carriers) was nothing more than an attempt to complicate and delay that process,” the union told its members in a statement.
“Canada Post wants to drag out pay equity with binding arbitration, a process that could take years or even decades.”
Other issues include “precarious part-time and temporary employment, no improvements in staffing, the ability to close all 493 protected CUPW staffed retail locations eliminating up to 1,200 full-time jobs,” the union said.
Should the union give formal notice of a strike, mail and parcel deliveries could be disrupted by as early as Monday.
The Crown corporation also has the option to lock out workers after Thursday.