The federal government has filed notice that it could table back-to-work legislation as early as next week against a strike by engineers and conductors at Canadian Pacific Railway.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said in a release Wednesday that the proposed Restoring Rail Service Act is on notice for when the House of Commons resumes sitting Monday (May 28).
In the meantime, she reiterated Wednesday, “we strongly urge the parties to get back to the negotiating table and reach an agreement.”
Many of 4,800 affected CP workers nationwide, represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, walked off the job Wednesday while continuing talks with CP toward new collective agreements. The affected units’ previous contracts with CP expired at the end of 2011.
The union had said in a release earlier Wednesday that Raitt, in meeting with union and company officials, “did not threaten the Teamsters with back-to-work legislation.”
“CP’s management needs to understand that hiding behind the federal government is not going to resolve things,” TCRC vice-president Doug Finnson said in that release. “Workers’ health and safety and pensions are serious issues and they (the employer) would be wrong not to settle them.”
However, Raitt said later Wednesday about the proposed legislation, “we are concerned that the work stoppage at (CP) will have a negative impact on the Canadian economy and put the jobs of thousands of other Canadians at risk if it is prolonged.”
The Conservative government’s majority in the Commons ensures fairly quick passage for the legislation if tabled, but the two main opposition parties have already said they oppose federal intervention in this strike.
“Once again, while two parties are working towards an agreement, this Conservative government has already given notice of back-to-work legislation, shifting the balance of power and disrupting otherwise productive negotiations,” Liberal labour critic and Cape Breton-area MP Rodger Cuzner said Wednesday.
“Negotiation must be the only option considered to resolve this dispute,” NDP labour critic and Montreal MP Alexandre Boulerice said in a separate release. “The union showed good faith by ensuring commuter rail service wouldn’t be affected in the country’s major cities. We must now let negotiations run their course.”
“Bills are due”
The Grain Growers of Canada on Thursday wrote NDP leader Tom Mulcair and urged the party to reconsider.
“We do recognize and appreciate your party’s concern for labour rights, a fair process for resolving collective agreements and for negotiating tactics up to and including the right to strike,” GGC president Stephen Vandervalk and executive director Richard Phillips wrote.
“However, disruptions to rail service directly impact farm families and farm income. Farmers have just incurred huge costs for seed, fertilizer, fuel and the other inputs needed to put a crop in the ground and those bills are due very soon. Farmers count on delivering some of their grain at this time of year for that cash flow.”
Management at Port Metro Vancouver on Thursday also urged CP and the Teamsters to resolve their dispute sooner.
“Deprived of CP’s rail services, the port’s major sulphur, coal, potash and grain terminals are losing volume, with deep ramifications on jobs across Canada,” Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations at Port Metro Vancouver, said in a separate release.
CP engineers, conductors serve strike notice, May 21, 2012