Senator Joyal: Mr. Palecek, welcome. When Parliament was called to vote on the previous bill that was adopted and return-to-work legislation in 2011, many of us who were in this chamber raised a concern about the constitutionality of the legislation. As you said in one of your responses earlier on, the court recognized that it was unconstitutional. I’m sure that you have had the opportunity with your advisers to go through that decision.
When you read Bill C-89, the present legislation, which aspect in this legislation seems to you to infringe on your Charter rights in a way that a court could conclude it being unconstitutional? I know it’s a legal question, but I’m sure that you have a legal adviser with you who could certainly give you some advice in relation to the validity of the present legislation.
Mike Palecek, President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers: I’m not a lawyer, and as I said, we’re still reviewing the matter with legal counsel, but I would say it certainly doesn’t meet the test of the necessity of the legislation based on the limited strike actions we’re taking.
There are other questions that aren’t simply about constitutionality, but we believe it’s in violation of the ILO Conventions which have been ratified in this country on the right to strike. So it’s illegal in other ways as well.
Senator Joyal: Would you also say that the minimal impairment aspect of the bill has not been rightly defined, that it removes any right to strike instead of proposing a more flexible way of exercising the right to strike?
Mr. Palecek: We don’t think the necessity of the legislation has been demonstrated by the current situation.
Senator Joyal: Is that, at first sight, the major point that you see being the major defect of the bill?
Mr. Palecek: As being a major point. I made a comment earlier about the fact that this would leave it up to the Minister of Labour to determine what the outstanding issues are. We see that as highly questionable. There are a number of aspects of this bill that need serious legal study.
Senator Joyal: The bill brings to light the reality of the labour relationship between the employer and the union, which is the fact that the employer always has in his back pocket the possibility of back-to-work legislation. I think it’s not an exaggeration to conclude that in relation to Canada Post, it’s more or less a way of solving labour relations. In other words, there is a lack of balance in the system that is persistent through the years.
You and my colleagues have raised a number of back-to-work legislation examples that pertain to the Canada Post. I remember in the 1970s, your predecessor Mr. Parrot was one of our favourite subjects of reflection each time that we had to consider back-to-work legislation. I’m sure you’re not of the same mindset as Mr. Parrot. I have no doubt about that. But there is no doubt, as you said, a culture in the system that brings about an unbalance that is permanent in that this bill, in fact, entrenches matters one step further.
How do you see the situation systemically to prevent another situation similar to this one four or five years from now?
Mr. Palecek: Well, I would first say that Mr. Parrot is absolutely a major aspect of our reflection as well. In fact, I met with the brother just last night.
I believe that we’re here precisely because we have been unable to settle these issues in previous rounds of bargaining. A lot of the health and safety issues that we’re trying to deal with were on the bargaining table when we were legislated back under the Harper government, and because we were not able to deal with them there, things have now reached a crisis point in terms of the injuries that we’re facing. So I fear that if this legislation goes ahead, we’ll be in a very similar situation next time around.
Senator Joyal: When you responded earlier to a question that you have met with the two ministers that we had an opportunity to hear this afternoon, when did those meetings take place? What was the subject of the discussion with those two ministers?
Mr. Palecek: I couldn’t give you the dates off the top of my head, but it was over the last couple of months. We have had a number of meetings with Minister Hajdu and Minister Qualtrough together. We have discussed the process of negotiations around appointment of mediators, things of that nature. We have also discussed some issues that we’re trying to address at the bargaining table.
Senator Joyal: Was there at any moment the possibility raised that there would be back-to-work legislation if there was no agreement?
Mr. Palecek: No, there was not.
Senator Joyal: When did you last meet with them?
Mr. Palecek: We have had phone calls and in-person meetings. We have had phone calls with two of them throughout the last two weeks, for sure.
Senator Joyal: On those occasions, there was no option of back-to-work legislation if there was no agreement?
Mr. Palecek: Well, that was certainly discussed after the comments were made that all options were on the table. We tried to seek clarity about what exactly those options were but weren’t given clarity on that.
I certainly made my feelings known at one point to the Minister of Labour that we thought they were insinuating back-to-work legislation and that that was very dangerous, because we were worried it would cause the employer to shut down negotiations and essentially wait for the legislation.
Senator Joyal: Especially considering the past history of labour relations between the employer and the union.
Mr. Palecek: Exactly.
Senator Joyal: If this bill is adopted, how do you see the negotiations resuming?
Mr. Palecek: Well, negotiations are not halted. We are still at the bargaining table, and we are still trying hard to reach an agreement. We’ll continue what we’re doing.
Senator Joyal: Is there a possibility this bill is helping the negotiation at this stage, or do you think it is creating a sour ambience between the two parties?
Mr. Palecek: I don’t believe it is helping.
Senator Joyal: You don’t believe that it is helping to bring you closer? Sometimes it’s better to have an agreement that has been the result of bargaining rather than an imposed solution by a third party. Don’t you think that is the preferred route?
Mr. Palecek: It’s always better to have a negotiated agreement than an opposed one.
Senator Joyal: When the interim chair of Canada Post was here, she told us about the various periods of mediation, arbitration and mediation again, and there was no movement during all those steps you went through in the last year or so. Could you confirm how many meetings took place at each step and if any progress was made or if it was stalled during that period?
Mr. Palecek: I couldn’t confirm the number of meetings. Talks continued throughout that entire period. Neither side walked away at either point, although our bargaining is complex. It’s not just one table. We have different bargaining tables for different issues. We also have meetings that happen around the bargaining table — not formally with the committee, but through our national executive board. There were lots of talks.
I don’t believe it would be accurate to say there was no movement during that time. In fact, you could compare our latest offer with the initial program of demands we put forward a year ago and you would see there was a lot of movement at least on our side.
Senator Joyal: When you say the bill identifies a certain number of issues that have been the object of bargaining, especially proposed section 10.2 —
The Chair: Senator Joyal, your time is up.