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Feds may legislate end to Canada Post lockout, strike

OTTAWA - Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says the federal government is prepared to legislate an end to the Canada Post dispute in as little as 48 hours.

Raitt told the House of Commons she will file notice tonight that the government is ready to order an end to the lockout and rotating strikes.

It's a formal warning that the government isn't prepared to let the labour impasse drag on. On Tuesday, the government issued a similar warning in the Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) strike.

Postal workers started rotating walkouts almost two weeks ago and Canada Post locked out its 48,000 unionized workers early today.

Raitt said the lockout, which suspended mail service in urban centres, changed the situation fundamentally.

"There's a cessation of mail delivery, that's different than rolling strikes, that's different than cutting back on the mail service," she said.

She told the Commons:

"Canada Post and the union have been unable to reach a negotiated settlement, which is a great disappointment for us because of the effect it has on Canada and on the Canadian economy. As a result, tonight we will be putting on notice legislation to restore mail delivery for service for Canadians."

Raitt previously called for the two sides to negotiate a settlement, with the help of a federal mediator, but several major issues remain unresolved after months of bargaining.

Canada Post's decision to lock out members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers may leave lasting scars. Postal union president Denis Lemelin said he is against an imposed solution and called for a one-on-one meeting with Canada Post chief executive Deepak Chopra as a way to break the impasse.

At the minimum, Lemelin called on Chopra to commit to allow postal workers to deliver social assistance and other cheques on Monday.

Lemelin called Canada Post's lockout provocative and "irresponsible," saying the union chose rotating strikes to ensure minimum disruption to the public.

"Today, all postal workers were ready — the letter carriers as well — to distribute the mail everywhere in the country," Lemelin said in a morning news conference.

"We were truly fulfilling our commitment to see to it that the public receives their mail."

He said he would favour the minister ordering Canada Post to end the lock-out.

Lemelin also proposed that Chopra reinstate the union's expired contract so that employees can return to work while negotiations continue.

"If Canada Post wants to have a collective agreement they have to give a new mandate to their negotiators, a real mandate to negotiate," Lemelin said.

CUPW had targeted postal plants in Toronto on Tuesday for the first time since it began rotating strikes nearly two weeks ago. It also had a strike in Montreal for the second time since the walkouts began in Winnipeg on June 3.

Canada Post said late Tuesday that it would suspend all operations in urban centres across the country, saying the strikes have cost it about $100 million.

The postal service had already announced deliveries of letters and most parcels would be cut back to Monday, Wednesday and Friday due to a drop in volume since the strikes began.

The federal government legislated striking postal workers back to work in 1997 — the last time the union went on strike — after they were off the job two weeks.

Although the labour dispute does not include rural postal workers, who fall under a different contract, even the post office has acknowledged that a prolonged lockout could mean they would eventually have no more mail to deliver.

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