Postal strike suggests change is needed

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Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier

An essential ingredient for a vibrant Canadian economy is an effective work force. This means employees receive fair wages, are assured of safe working conditions with compensation for injury, and equitable labour relations. Since 1872 workers have had the right to form unions and, if necessary, engage in strike action to attain these conditions.
However, in a modern, highly integrated economy, strikes affect more than just the employers and employees. The recent disruption to Canada’s postal system has highlighted some issues between workers and company executives that affect
a much larger community, including companies, employers, employees and the public at large. In some cases, the postal strike has directly caused financial loss and emotional strain. And yet, those most seriously hurt by the labour issues at the Post Office have no say in a fair solution to the labour problems. Perhaps it’s time to review the entire issue of labour-management relations.
On the positive side, unionized workers earn more than non-unionized workers in the same occupation. Unions have played a large role in society regarding employee salaries and developing rights and dignity of the worker, but they are facing problems. Unionized workers are becoming a smaller part of the total workforce. Companies are contracting out many jobs and using more part-time workers. Current work trends indicate the average worker will have at least three different careers during his or her lifetime.  These problems will only be compounded with increased automation and application of artificial intelligence in the workplace.
Through all these economic and social changes, there can still be a meaningful place for unions, but only if they are prepared to venture into new relations with employers and society. Unions must cooperate with business leaders and all levels of government to address the real and significant issues facing Canadians in our rapidly changing world; precarious employment, retraining for the digital economy, integration and co-dependency of Canadian society, the international nature of business and full respect for minorities and less privileged members of our society.
As one small instance of a broader outlook, consider strikes as the ultimate means of settling labour disputes. Are there alternatives? For example, when workers call for a strike, they would remain working, but the salaries they receive would go into an escrow account, matched by the employer. If it is not settled after one month, half of the money in the escrow account would be given to some charitable organization. If a settlement is not reached after three months, the entire amount would be donated. This would provide an incentive to reach a settlement, but would not cause serious disruption to third parties.
Perhaps labour specialists could suggest other and better methods for settling labour disputes, but what is essential is that all sectors of society find new solutions to the labour issues we are facing in the digital age of international commerce.