OTTAWA — The Trudeau government gave one final push Friday to bring the Canada Post labour dispute to a close, suggesting it will act quickly if rotating strikes continue beyond a Saturday midnight deadline for the latest contract offers from the Crown corporation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that "all options will be on the table" to end postal disruptions if there was no progress in bargaining for new contracts.
Decisions on how to end job action by postal workers could come as early as Sunday, said a government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that "'all the options' does include legislating."
The prospect of bridging the impasse all but collapsed Friday when the Canadian Union of Postal Workers said it would not bring the latest offers to a vote of its members, although it said both sides remained at the bargaining table.
"CUPW members voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action if necessary to achieve our demands at the bargaining table," the union's national president Mike Palecek said in a statement. "We are fulfilling the mandate given to us by our members. A vote will take place when Canada Post presents offers that meet our demands for health and safety, gender equality and more full-time jobs."
At the same time, Canada Post asked its international partners to halt mail and parcel shipments to Canada as it reeled under the weight of a delivery backlog that had grown to 30 days as a result of the dispute.
The Crown corporation said Friday that its domestic customers were also backed up with packages waiting for delivery as rotating strikes that began Oct. 22 continued across the country.
"The backlogs are also extending to international mail and parcels entering the country," Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said in an email.
"As a result, we have been forced to request that international posts, including the United States Postal Service, refrain from shipping items until we can clear the backlog."
Britain's Royal Mail, in a bulletin to its corporate customers, said it would hold any shipments posted to Canada within the last couple of days in its distribution centres "awaiting further updates."
"As a result of ongoing industrial action, we have now been requested to suspend the dispatching of international traffic destined for Canada, from today until further notice," it said.
"This applies not only to us, but all international postal operators," the Royal Mail added.
A similar bulletin was issued by Hongkong Post and online sales giant eBay said it also received a notification from China Post that it was halting deliveries.
Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have been in contract negotiations for nearly a year, with no success.
CUPW began rotating strikes across the country that have shut down postal operations in over 200 communities, hoping to pressure Canada Post into agreeing to contract demands, including better job security, reduced workloads and stronger health and safety measures.
The walkouts have resulted in backlogs at the agency's main sorting plants, particularly in Toronto, where Hamilton said the number of mail-filled tractor trailers awaiting processing had reached 407 as of Friday. Dozens of trailers were also sitting idle in Montreal and Vancouver.
The Crown corporation issued new contract offers this week aimed at reaching agreements with its approximately 42,000 urban employees and 8,000 rural and suburban carriers.
CUPW said the latest proposals made positive steps, but not enough to put an end to walkouts, which rotated Friday through most of Manitoba, as well as communities in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and New Brunswick.
The offers were time sensitive, with Canada Post imposing a deadline of Saturday, at one minute before midnight, for the union to accept them.
CUPW wouldn't say whether it believed tentative deals could be reached by then, but said the union would not be held to an arbitrary deadline.
Palecek was also critical of Canada Post for halting shipments from outside Canada.
"There is no reason to halt international shipments," he said in a statement. "Let us solve our issues at the bargaining table."
The union said it wants concrete proposals for dealing with an escalating number of work injuries at Canada Post.
Hamilton said the corporation has proposed a way for the company and union to work together to identify ways to make the workplace safer, and offered to fast-track a review of workloads to reduce overburdening of carriers who have seen a rapid increase in the number of parcels they have to deliver while letter volumes have declined.
Earlier this week, eBay called on the government to legislate an end to the dispute in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events tied to American Thanksgiving that begin Nov. 23.
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press