The essential interests of management and employees in any enterprise, unionized or not, public or private, are identical.
Both want the enterprise to succeed because their respective personal well-being depends on that success.
Where they differ is in how to best serve their common interest.
It is not unusual for Canada Post’s management and union to disagree on the terms for a new contract. Whether the parties to the post office dispute would, in time, have reached a negotiated resolution is a mute point now.
What is of concern is the federal government’s response to the dispute. The government concluded that the consequences to the country as a whole from the failure of union and management to settle their differences was such that it had to step in.
A democratic government’s role in resolving a labour dispute is not that of a court. The government’s role and responsibility is not to determine who is right and who is wrong. The government’s role should be to be to bring the parties to a compromise solution. It is to encourage and motivate the parties, to goad and prompt them to narrow the gulf separating their respective positions.
The government could have done that by imposing time-limited mediation followed by arbitration should mediation fail. The objective of the government’s intervention should have been to facilitate a compromise solution.
To compromise is to settle differences through mutual concessions. Each party makes concessions with a view to achieving a result both parties can live with. An outcome where both parties agree on their own initiative to surrender demands in the interest of finding an acceptable solution is always preferable to an outcome where government declares winners and losers.
The federal government’s legislation restored postal service through the application of force. However, antagonizing, demoralizing, and humiliating postal workers will do little to improve productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness in Canada’s postal service.
The government’s legislation imposed employment conditions inferior to those offered by management.
Why did the government act in this manner? There can only be two reasons: either the management’s offer was irresponsible, exceeding Canada Post’s ability to pay, or the government saw the dispute as an opportunity to bully organized labour.
If the former is the case, the government should dismiss Canada Post’s board of directors and chief executive officer. How can the country remain confident that the management of the post office is in good hands when the federal government has to step in to prevent management from giving away the store? If management’s offer to the union exceeded the corporation’s ability to pay there must be consequences for management.
If the government’s objective was to stomp on the union in order to give the appearance of a strong and decisive federal government, that too will have consequences. The current economic malaise is due entirely to government policies that encouraged and rewarded unprecedented greed in those people with political and economic power. The government is paying the price exacted by the folly of these economic policies not by changing its policies, but by reducing public services and squeezing the middle class, by further victimizing the victims.
The government’s legislation to restore postal service all but neutralizes the position of unions in the collective bargaining process. The legislation emasculates organized labour and rewards incompetent management. This is not a recipe for economic recovery. Under such conditions the long-term prospects for effective, productive, and responsible labour relations in this country are dim.
Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator who lives in Terrace, B.C.