Canada Post cuts services as strikes turn into self-harm

Delivery for letters, admail and most small packages and documents in Canada is being reduced to three days a week in urban areas, to respond to a collapse in mail volumes in the wake of current postal strikes. Canada Post said yesterday that it had to act to avoid “significant losses that will harm the company’s financial self-sustainability”.

The Corporation’s negotiators met again with union representatives today to talk over the latest position in the stalemate over a new wage deal.

The Canadian public has cut back dramatically on mailing following strikes by members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which have been rotating through various cities since Friday.

Although individual cities have generally experienced strikes lasting around 24 hours, with little advance warning from the union as to where strikes will take place, many users of the mail have put in alternative arrangements using digital channels or local drop-off boxes.

To respond to the loss of income from the “plummet” in mailflow, from next week Canada Post will restrict deliveries by carriers in mostly urban areas to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Staffing levels at mail processing facilities across the country will also be reduced.

Deliveries into rural and community mailboxes will remain unaffected by the changes, while mail pick-up arrangements will also continue as usual. Canada Post said parcels will be delivered as usual, while post offices will stick to normal operating hours.

In a statement, the Crown Corporation said yesterday: “Canada Post regrets any inconvenience these changes cause to customers. However, daily mail volumes at Canada Post have fallen up to 50 per cent since the union started rotating strikes on June 3rd. This has resulted in a steep drop in revenues and forced the company to find ways to reduce costs.”

Meeting

The union met again with Canada Post management today (June 9) to present its latest response to the most recent offer from the Corporation for a new four-year collective bargaining agreement that would be effective February 2011.

The CUPW stuck fast to its demand for annual wage increases of 3.3% in the first year, followed by 2.75% in subsequent years of the deal. However, there was some movement on issues to do with part-time workers and admail delivery, while the union proposed joint committees to examine pension and sick leave arrangements.

Denis Lemelin, CUPW national president and chief negotiator, said this morning: “At the meeting we informed the employer that we are prepared to make more adjustments in our previously-submitted global offer provided that we see some genuine movement on the part of CPC on our demands that aim to address real problems the members live day to day in the work place.”

Strikes

Yesterday saw around 4,000 postal workers taking to the picket lines in the cities of Calgary and Edmonton, while today was expected to see around 1,600 workers in units of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) within 14 other smaller cities across the country set to stop work.

The union said the strikes in smaller-sized centres had been chosen “to highlight the need for Canada Post Corporation to expand postal services to the public”.

Commenting on the service cutbacks put in place in response to its strike action, the union said yesterday that its strategy of rotating strikes to minimise service disruption “is working” in applying pressure to Canada Post.

“The CUPW will continue its strategy of rotating strikes and will not respond to this provocation,” the union declared.

“As we have done from the beginning of this round of bargaining, we will devote our energies to negotiating a collective agreement which meets the needs of postal workers and promotes high quality postal service to the public,” said the CUPW statement.

“Worrisome”

The union and Corporation have been negotiating a new wage deal since October 2010, with even periods of formal conciliation and mediation failing to achieve a compromise.

While the Corporation is seeking to cut its operating costs to respond to a long-term decline in physical mail volumes – with more flexible working arrangements, cautious wage increases and reforms to sick leave and pension arrangements – the CUPW is pushing for its members to be rewarded for 16 consecutive years of profitability at Canada Post.

The union wants Canada Post to expand into non-postal services to boost revenues, rather than make cutbacks to balance the books. It is also objecting to various changes in working conditions and facility consolidation through Canada Post’s $2bn network modernisation programme, Postal Transformation.

Canada Post said yesterday its latest offer to the union was “fair and reasonable”, with a top wage rate of $26 an hour, job security for workers and up to seven weeks of paid vacation for those eligible.

In Canada’s Parliament yesterday, MP Maria Mourani described the Canadian government’s “silence” on the issue of postal strikes as “worrisome”.

The Bloc Québécois MP called on ministers to send a “clear message that the government expects a negotiated solution”.

In reply, labour minister Lisa Raitt said the government had been encourging the two sides to resolve their differences through mediation.

“We are very frustrated that it is continuing on,” she said of the industrial action, “so we have put more effort and emphasis on making sure that the parties themselves know the importance of this matter to the Canadian public.”

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