OTTAWA — A former industrial-relations heavyweight has been appointed to bring a conclusion to the Canada Post labour dispute, two weeks after the federal government legislated an end to rotating strikes by postal employees.
Elizabeth MacPherson, a former chair of the Canada Industrial Relations Board, will have up to 14 days to try to reach negotiated contract settlements between the Crown corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
The two sides have not been at the bargaining table since the Trudeau Liberals brought in a back-to-work bill to halt the rotating walkouts — legislation that sparked protests outside a number of Canada Post facilities in support of the postal workers.
Bill C-89, which was passed into law Nov. 27, included provisions for the government to appoint a mediator with a mandate to bring the two sides together.
"Canada Post and CUPW were unable to agree on a mediator-arbitrator as per the process outlined in the legislation," Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement announcing MacPherson's appointment. "I remain hopeful that the two parties will be able to negotiate new agreements and continue to monitor the situation closely."
Failing an agreement between the Crown corporation and CUPW, MacPherson will have the authority to impose a settlement through binding arbitration.
Canada Post said it would "fully participate" in the mediation process.
"We believe in our right to free collective bargaining but we will reluctantly participate in this legislated process," CUPW said in a statement. It said it will try to negotiate an agreement so as to avoid arbitration.
The rotating strikes created havoc with the country's postal system and caused delivery delays that are expected to continue through January.
While it said letter mail should be processed and delivered before Christmas, the Crown agency warned again Monday that parcel delivery dates remain "unpredictable."
"Significant and uneven parcel backlogs persist across the country and continue to challenge our operations as heavy holiday parcel volumes arrive daily," Canada Post said in a statement.
"Understanding the central role we play in delivering the holidays for Canadians and Canadian retailers, it is our priority to deliver as much as possible before Christmas. However, existing backlogs, along with other complicating factors such as protest blockades at our facilities and any potential severe winter weather events, means delivery will be hampered."
Canada Post said Friday it was facing a backlog of about six million parcels but could not provide an accurate updated figure Monday, citing new incoming parcel volumes over the weekend. It said about 750,000 packages had been delivered.
CUPW, which represents 50,000 postal employees, has disputed Canada Post's claims about the size of the backlog.
Whatever its magnitude, reducing the backlog has been encumbered by protests against the back-to-work order outside some Canada Post facilities since the strikes officially ended.
During the walkouts, Canada Post requested that foreign postal services halt deliveries to Canada.
That embargo has since been lifted, although Canada Post says overseas packages might still take longer to arrive as customs agents sift through their own backlogs of items that were held back.
Canada Post said it expects to receive "roughly half" the daily volumes of international shipments that are normal for this time of year.
MacPherson was recommended as a mediator by the Canada Industrial Relations Board after Canada Post and CUPW submitted their own lists of potential appointees.
When she was the chair at the CIRB, MacPherson was appointed in 2011 by then-Conservative labour minister Lisa Raitt to arbritrate a dispute involving flight attendants at Air Canada.
In her ruling, which the Canadian Union of Public Employees called "profoundly disappointing," MacPherson sided with Air Canada, imposing an agreement that the carrier's flight attendants had rejected a month earlier.
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press