OTTAWA/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Canadian government will force striking workers at Canadian Pacific Railway back to work with fast-track legislation aimed at restoring rail service by Thursday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said on Monday.
The government introduced the legislation in the House of Commons on Monday to end a work stoppage by 4,800 locomotive engineers, conductors and rail traffic controllers at CP Rail, Canada's second-biggest railway.
"From past precedent, we'd like CP Rail continuing to roll on Thursday. But we'd like it sooner, quite frankly, and that's the message today," Raitt said in Ottawa, flanked by Canada's ministers of transport, energy, agriculture and industry.
The unionized employees have been on strike since May 23 over pension issues and work rules, shutting down CP Rail freight operations across Canada for nearly a week. The latest round of mediated talks between the company and workers broke down at the weekend.
The government fears the strike could hurt an economy still recovering from recession. Raitt has said a strike would cost C$540 million ($530 million) in economic activity each week.
"It is very clear that the government of Canada must act now to resume rail service at CP Rail, as the prospect of ratified agreements in the short term is highly unlikely," Raitt told the House of Commons earlier in the day. "Simply put ... the strike can't go on. We need to get the trains running again."
An accelerated back-to-work bill will become law shortly after it passes the House and Senate and will take effect 12 hours later.
The majority Conservative government has resorted to legislation to end strikes at Air Canada and the Canada Post mail service, and the two main opposition parties were harsh in their criticism on Monday.