OTTAWA, Ontario: Federal minister of labour Lisa Raitt has put CP and its striking union on notice: if they don’t settle, the government is ready to intervene.
In a press conference today, Raitt said, “the ministry has put a bill on the notice paper and we are prepared to introduce legislation if necessary.”
Since the House of Commons isn’t sitting this week, the earliest back-to-work legislation could be introduced would be Monday when the House returns.
Although its members are on strike, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and the rail company are still in the process of negotiating, and are making use of federally appointed conciliation and mediation services. Raitt is also taking a strong personal interest in the talks.
“I’m always going to be present and in the area if they need help,” she said. “I want them to understand the government is watching this very closely.”
She added that while she’d prefer it if the parties could come to a negotiated settlement, and although it’s not the government’s intention to force the workers back on the job, the government will put the Canadian economy ahead of the rights of the workers.
“There is a point in time when a person’s right to strike needs to be measured and balanced again the interests of the Canadian economy and the general public interest,” she said.
She pointed out that parliament has intervened in labour disputes in the transportation sector for at least the past 60 years and that in the last ten rail strikes, the government has intervened ten times.
Raitt said that according to government calculations, the strike has the potential to cost the Canadian economy $540 million per week.
“We’re watching the economic effects very closely,” she said. In particular she cited the effect the strike could have on the coal, potash and auto industries.
Raitt did acknowledge that at this point, she couldn’t predict exactly how badly this work stoppage would slow the movement of freight in Canada, and suggested both CN and the trucking industry could step in and carry more goods.
She also suggested that the union may decide to return to work and carry on with the negotiations, especially since the two sides seem to be so close to an agreement.