The federal government is prepared to order an end to rotating strikes by Canada Post employees if a collective agreement isn't soon reached, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday.
"We strongly encourage both sides to reach a deal and are prepared to table legislation if we do not see a resolution over the next few days, a step we do not take lightly," she said in a statement.
Hajdu said the Liberal government has faith in the collective bargaining process and believes the best deals are reached at the bargaining table.
She said it has supported and encouraged such an outcome by providing conciliation officers, appointing mediators and offering voluntary arbitrations. The government has also reappointed Morton Mitchnick as special mediator.
"Despite all of this, limited progress was made and we have exhausted our options," she added.
Mike Palecek, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said the threat of back-to-work legislation undermines the chances of negotiated settlements.
"Free collective bargaining is a charter right in this country, and we have a government that claims to believe in free collective bargaining, but apparently that means only when it's convenient," he said.
The union is remaining at the table and hopes that the return of the special mediator will help, he said.
"But we're seriously concerned. Canada Post only has one game, and it's to refuse to negotiate and sit back and wait for legislation," Palecek said. "They've done this again and again, and it looks like the government is helping them out."
Canada Post did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Palecek's remarks.
Regardless of whether it gets a last-minute deal with its striking employees, Canada Post warned Canadians earlier Tuesday that they can expect delays of parcel and mail delivery into the new year as a result of rotating walkouts.
Businesses and individual customers can expect the worst delays in southern and southwestern Ontario because of a backlog of hundreds of transport trailers sitting idle at Canada Post's main Toronto sorting facility, the Crown corporation said.
"The postal service remains operational, but the prolonged and ongoing strike activity has not only caused significant backlogs, it continues to greatly reduce our ability to process and deliver mail and parcels across the country," a Canada Post spokesman said in an email.
"Our focus across the country is to process and deliver as much as possible on a first-in, first-out basis."
Canada Post is dealing with a fifth week of rotating strikes by its unionized workers as both sides remain apart in contract negotiations.
Distribution centres in Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal are also experiencing severe backlogs, and packages are backing up at border points, despite a plea from Canada Post to its international partners to halt shipments, spokesman Jon Hamilton said.
"International items will require screening by the Canada Border Services Agency and we are working in partnership with them to manage the significant existing backlog."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated his call Tuesday for both sides in the dispute to resolve their differences soon, making note of important Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events that coincide with American Thanksgiving this coming weekend.
"We are, of course, very preoccupied with the fact that Christmas is coming, important shopping days are coming and we need to see a resolution to that," Trudeau said as he arrived in Ottawa for a meeting with his cabinet.
The postal workers' union on Monday turned down an offer for a holiday cooling-off period and a possible $1,000 bonus for its 50,000 members, saying it would only mean postal employees continuing to work under the same conditions the union is trying to have changed.
Major issues in nearly a full year of bargaining have included what the union calls an "injury crisis," along with gender inequality, overburdening and precarious work.
The latest round of rotating strikes hit several Ontario communities Tuesday including Woodstock, St. Thomas, Chatham and three locations in Scarborough, as well as Prince George, B.C.
Canada Post has apologized to its customers for the continued walkouts, and warned that it cannot now predict the exact length of delivery delays.
"This is likely to be the situation for the foreseeable future, meaning the next several weeks, including the peak holiday season and through January 2019," the company said.