Canadian Parliament Set to Order Strikers Back to Their Jobs
TORONTO — CANADA'S federal workers are being sent back to work with little to show for their strike but lost wages, an unhappy public, and millions of dollars in business losses.Parliament was expected to introduce legislation today ordering back to work the 110,000 federal civil servants eligible to strike. But the measure does not take effect immediately, and the strike could drag on for days, maybe even a week or more. Opposition politicians say they will slow passage of the bill with debate in the House of Commons. And the head of the union, Daryl Bean, said over the weekend that he would rather go to jail than send his workers back to their jobs. Canadian life has been slowed to a crawl for eight days by public employee strikes. Airports are sometimes open, sometimes closed. Border crossings with the United States are jammed, with lines as long as 10 miles. Toronto's public-transit system is shut down. Postal workers could strike again. Canada's two major airlines have estimated they are losing up to C$6 million (US$5.3 million) a day as picket lines and slowdowns shut down Toronto's airport, the busiest in the country - something that typically only a winter storm can accomplish. "This is worse than a snowstorm," says Denis Couture, an Air Canada spokesman. Rowan Marsh, a Canadian resident traveling on a British passport, reported long delays at the customs desk at Toronto's airport after arriving on a flight from London. Postal workers struck in late August and stayed off the job more than 2 weeks. Appointment of a mediator sent them back to work, though they could go back on strike after his report. Mail carriers and sorters turned down C$17 ($14.95) an hour, more than triple the minimum wage, and a C$3,600 ($3,166) lump-sum payment. What they want are fewer part-time workers and more permanent union employees. Federal civil servants - from clerks in the tax offices to grain handlers - are also interested in increased job security. Pay, which averages C$30,000 ($26,385) is above the national average. But they say the government is using them to prop up public opinion. Public approval of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government stands at just 12 percent. "Zero percent [pay increase] is not what public servants deserve, but it is what the government is able to pay," says Gilles Loiselle, president of the Treasury Board, the Cabinet minister in charge of negotiating with the civil service. The legislation ordering civil servants back to work will freeze wage increases at zero for the first year and 3 percent the second year. There is no bargaining, and dissenters face fines and prison terms. About 46,000 public servants - such as customs agents at borders, ports, and airports (including air traffic controllers) - are classed as essential workers and not allowed to strike. They can work by the book, however, with customs agents checking every bill of lading on every truck, and searching eve ry car. The Ontario government - run by the socialist New Democratic Party, which is supported by unions - has let the transit strike drag on because it does not like to interfere in collective bargaining, the labor minister says. But with such chaos, Premier Robert Rae may order the workers back to work this week.