June 11, 1951

LIB

Édouard-Gabriel Rinfret (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. Rinfret:

Does the hon. member ask

who rents them to the firms?

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PC

Heber Harold Hatfield

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Hatfield:

Yes.

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LIB

Édouard-Gabriel Rinfret (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. Rinfret:

An outside concern.

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Section agreed to. Section 3 agreed to. On section 4-Deputy postmaster general.


CCF

Joseph William Noseworthy

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Noseworihy:

Mr. Chairman, can the Postmaster General tell me the percentage of postal employees now employed as temporaries as compared with the number of permanents?

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LIB

Édouard-Gabriel Rinfret (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. Rinfret:

The figure is twenty per cent.

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Section agreed to. On section 5-Powers, etc., of Postmaster General.


PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

It would appear that this is the section in relation to which I should like to obtain some information from the minister. There has been some considerable amount of discussion in the house since the earlier part of the session-Mr. Chairman, I will wait for a minute or two until it is possible for me to hear my own voice.

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LIB

Joseph-Alfred Dion (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Liberal

The Chairman:

Order.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

As I was saying, there has been a considerable amount of discussion since the earlier part of the session with regard to the changed arrangements which have been made for the delivery of mail. I recognize that in a great many places the hardship which was experienced by the postmen in the earlier stages has been diminished to some extent by the gradual working out of the new system. On the other hand, I find that in some of the larger cities, and in fact in many communities across the country, there is still a good deal of objection to the change which has been made in regard to mail delivery and the carrying of the mail. It does not relate so much to the length of hours that the postmen are called upon to work, although that matter in itself is a source of objection in many cases, but rather to the fact that, particularly in the larger communities, a postman is called upon to carry a load of mail which was never contemplated in the early days when postal services were established.

Every one of us recognizes that, day by day, there is a tendency for periodical publications to increase both in size and in weight. Moreover, the people are having a larger number of periodical publications delivered to their homes by mail. I am sure that every one of the members has seen postmen carrying an enonmous load of heavy material which is largely the result of this changed arrangement. I know the answer can be given that the instructions are so worked out that this should not be the case. The fact remains, however, that whatever the instructions are, and whatever the circumstances are, I have personally had representations made to me by many postmen in different parts of this country in regard to the weight of the loads they are called upon to carry. That is particularly noticeable in the more severe weather, and of course in those areas in which the weather is more extreme.

I certainly would be the last one in the house to argue against any step that will effect economy in keeping with efficiency. I am convinced, and have said so many times, that there are a great many places where large savings can be effected in the government service. Nevertheless, in certain types of government service, efficiency must not be jeopardized by any attempt at false economy. The postmen and the post office employees generally are not only part of our whole social structure but are also a vital part of our economic structure. In addition, they are almost a part of the households of the people whom they serve. I doubt if there are any working members of the community who are brought closer, day by day, to the people whom they serve. For that very reason it is essential that this great and important service-and one which the Canadian post office has every reason to point to with pride -should not be jeopardized, nor should the excellent morale that has existed in that department over the years be impaired, by any regulations which would leave an impression in the minds of the postal employees that the value and the importance of their service were not being adequately recognized.

I do not think that the Postmaster General will question the fact that many postmen have retired from the service during these past few months. Some have been compelled to do so because of their health. No matter to what extent the earlier complaints may have been diminished in some communities, I earnestly suggest that the effect of the present arrangement on the morale and on the efficiency of the service in many other communities be carefully examined.

Having said that, from the point of view of the postmen themselves who perform an immensely valuable service for every one of

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us, day in and day out, in weather of all kinds, I wish to refer to the other aspect of this problem, and it is one which has not been discussed at any great length during the present session. Efficient and frequent delivery of the mail is one of the essential requirements of our modern society, and is a vitally important function within our business and economic structure. Anything which would make it less effective for the purpose of carrying on our ordinary business transactions would1 indeed be a false economy.

While I do not wish to draw comparisons unfavourably as between Canada and any other country, those who have had occasion to use the mail in London, and,'in fact, generally throughout the British isles, realize that to a great extent the mail is used over there in the place of the telegraph because frequent and prompt deliveries have made the use of the mail an efficient and effective means of immediate communication between business houses as well as between individuals, Reducing the service to one delivery a day is not only a question of economy and a question of its effect on the postman, important though that may be. It also has a marked effect on the value of that service to many business houses as well as to many functions of government at the national, the provincial or the municipal level. Over the years mail delivery here has become less frequent rather than more frequent. Yet in other countries, with the increased efficiency of the general social and economic structure, mail delivery has generally increased, both in number and in speed of deliveries.

I therefore think that this whole procedure should be re-examined and that the Postmaster General should reconsider the changes which have been made, not only from the point of view of the convenience of the postmen and of the postal organization generally, but also from the point of view of the efficiency of business throughout the whole of this country. This is particularly desirable at a time when business is to be stepped up through the addition of defence production to our ordinary civilian requirements. New burdens will be placed upon our postal service-new burdens which will have their impact upon the postmen and the postal employees generally-and also new demand's for efficient service for the more effective carrying out of the business which is done in that way. For these reasons, Mr. Chairman, I strongly urge that the Postmaster General give this subject further consideration, and I can only hope that in this case the consideration may produce the same

Post Office Act

satisfactory results which ensued from our earlier arguments in regard to the cost of postal delivery of newspapers.

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LIB

Édouard-Gabriel Rinfret (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. Rinfrel:

I would not like the leader of the opposition to feel too certain that it was his recommendation that brought about this reduction. I have had some other people speak to me, too.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Mr. Chairman, the promptness with which the Postmaster General referred to something which I had not even indicated suggests that perhaps my arguments had very considerable force with him.

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LIB

Édouard-Gabriel Rinfret (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. Rinfrei:

To come back to the reduction in delivery from two to one a day, there were two purposes to be accomplished by this measure. One was that of economy, and that is the one which for the most part the leader of the opposition has stressed. The other was the question of manpower. In reducing the deliveries from two to one a day we realized an economy of about 1,000 persons in the manpower field. At the outset, we felt that by making this change we could make a reduction of one out of every three men. That is to say, where three men previously served three walks and gave two deliveries a day, two men could serve the same territory by giving only one delivery a day.

We might as well face the cold facts. The service under the one-deiivery system is not as good as that which was formerly given under the two-delivery system. Some of the residential patrons, who formerly received their mail in the morning, will now receive it in the afternoon. Somebody has to be at the beginning of the route, and somebody at the end. There would be a difference of several hours in the times at which various patrons on the same route receive their mail.

The complaints, however, were not from the residential patrons; generally speaking, they accepted the reduction in good spirit. It was mainly commercial or industrial concerns, who for one reason or another were located on a residential walk, who were chiefly affected. As I said before, we hoped to have made the change by making a reduction of one man out of every three. This was found to be impracticable. It was overburdening many of our letter carriers, and causing overtime. The procedure was modified in many areas and a reduction of one in four was instituted. I might say, however, that some offices have been able to fit in the one-delivery service with a reduction of one letter carrier out of every three.

A change of this kind cannot be put into effect overnight. There are so many ramifications, involving all kinds of changes in postal arrangements. Complaints were received, but

in every case the complaint was investigated, and, where improvements could reasonably be effected, this was done immediately. The service did not involve greater travel by letter carriers, but it did involve additional loads. This was mitigated wherever possible by an adjustment of the routes, and also by having part of the load delivered to relay bundle boxes, stores and other places; we are supplying these relay bundle boxes as soon as they can be provided. In the meantime we are using stores and other places to store these bundles for the letter carriers. There was actually a certain amount of dislocation at the outset, but I do not believe this was any reason for not going ahead with the scheme.

I have received recently a report from the main letter carrier offices of Canada, and, with the exception of one or two trouble spots, the change is working out satisfactorily.

In cases where it is found by independent check that the letter carriers are working consistently more than the forty-eight hours a week, as corrected on the eleventh week to bring it to forty-four hours a week, steps will be taken to pay the letter carriers overtime for that additional period until such time as the walks can be readjusted and brought within the uniform five and a half day week.

One of the chief sore spots is Toronto. I will be perfectly frank and admit that the situation in Toronto is not as good as we could wish, but it is not entirely due to the establishment of the one delivery a day system. As a matter of fact, there was an inordinate increase in the amount of business in Toronto. The revenue for the month of April increased by $400,000 over the same month last year, or approximately twenty-eight per cent.

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PC

Agar Rodney Adamson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Adamson:

I do not want to interrupt, but what was the total revenue?

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LIB

Édouard-Gabriel Rinfret (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. Rinfret:

Roughly $1,500,000. In addition many employees are leaving the post office to obtain employment in commercial and industrial concerns at a higher rate of pay than the post office is able to give, tied down as we are to specific rates and conditions. Improvements, however, will depend to no small extent on the department being able to obtain suitable replacements for employees who have either retired from the service on account of age, or have resigned, at the salaries and on the conditions of employment which we have to offer.

At this point I might mention that I have received a large number of letters from postal

patrons all across Canada, expressing appreciation of the adjustments made.

I wish to express a word of commendation to those employees, particularly letter carriers and city sorters, who have had to bear the brunt of this change. In most cases they have helped us loyally to put the change into effect, and I can assure the committee that it is the intention of the Post Office Department not to place any undue strain upon these employees. We shall in all cases make the adjustments as quickly as possible, but we do ask for reasonable co-operation and forbearance while the contingent adjustments are being made. I can give an assurance that we will do all we can to remedy any justifiable grievance.

To put the picture in another way, the post office cannot refuse to accept all business that is offered. When a street car gets overcrowded, the public have to wait for the next one. When the Bell Telephone have used up all the space on the circuit, patrons wishing a telephone have to wait, sometimes for months, before they can be accommodated. Stores which have sold out a particular line of goods simply say "sold out". Laundries and other organizations selling service put out signs indicating that they are unable to accommodate any more customers. The same holds true for railroads and aeroplanes. The post office, however, is expected to take on all comers, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter what the fluctuations in volume may be.

We have no magic formula by which we can foretell the problems of any particular period or provide necessary manpower at a time of shortage. At the present time, men are going out to the armed forces and to essential industries, and this has to be encouraged, not discouraged. All we can do is to save manpower wherever we can, and to cut out any frills. The reduction in postal deliveries was inevitable, and, unless the manpower situation eases, more restrictions may conceivably have to be considered. Everyone who has studied the basic facts will agree with the conclusions we have reached, but unfortunately most people want us to make the necessary economies, but at the expense of someone else.

Let me again make it clear, therefore, that the Post Office Department does not feel it necessary to apologize for its action in restricting service. It was brought about by conditions beyond our control. In regard to the change itself, individual mistakes and errors in carrying out the general policy will occur, and these are regretted. They are

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perhaps pardonable in a large and complex organization such as the postal service, extending as it does from coast to coast.

We can offer no rosy promises for immediate improvement. That will depend on conditions, but hon. members may rest assured that we shall spare no effort to give the most practical and efficient service which the resources at our disposal will permit.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Mr. Chairman, the illustration offered by the Postmaster General is, I suggest, rather misleading. He says that a condition under which there is an excessive use of telephones, or street car services, or even excessive purchases in stores, can be compared with this situation. If there is a crowding of telephone lines through excessive use of those lines, or if there is a crowding of street cars to such an extent that certain people cannot get on them, or if there is sell-out of goods in a store, necessitating a would-be purchaser waiting for another occasion, the result flows from the actions of the persons seeking to obtain that service. What happened in this instance is the result of action taken by the Post Office Department itself, not by those using the service. The cure, I suggest, is exclusively within the hands of the department. In the other instances the pressure comes about because of the number of people seeking to use the service.

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CCF

Joseph William Noseworthy

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Noseworthy:

Speaking in reply to some of the observations of the Postmaster General respecting the situation in Toronto, I would say first that I was pleased to find that he is prepared to face the facts so far as that city is concerned and to admit that all is not well with the postal service in Toronto and district.

Through conversation with one of the managers of a postal station in Toronto over the week end I am inf ormed that station managers are being flooded with telephone calls and letters expressing severe criticisms of the system as it now exists, and that this condition obtains to the point where life is almost unbearable for them. At the week end immediately preceding the last one there were five routes in the constituency of South York that were not covered. Last week there was one route, in the area in which I live, on which there were no deliveries on Tuesday or Thursday. Further, a daily newspaper from Hamilton, which would be carried as second-class mail, was not delivered daily; four copies were delivered on Saturday. Naturally the citizens are complaining of a service which obliges them to accept, in one day, delivery of four issues of a newspaper which should be delivered daily.

Post Office Act

I was told by postal employees over the week end that in some of the Toronto stations neither the sorters nor the carriers have been able to keep abreast of their work. They are always behind, both in sorting and in delivering. It is obvious, therefore, that the situation in Toronto and district has not yet cleared up. It is not just a matter of having mail delivery at six or seven o'clock at night; rather it is one of having any mail delivery at all during one or two days of the week. This condition has arisen through the introduction of the one delivery a day system, which has come as a blanket order or blueprint from head office in Ottawa, without any effort to find out, through experiment in some of the larger centres, such as Toronto, just how the system would work out.

The blanket order was sent out across the country stating that the walks were to be telescoped so that one out of every three men was to be relieved, and this was done without the department having any knowledge of the disruption it would cause in the postal service. Not only has there been disruption in the system, but there has been a serious break-down in public relations. I believe in the past the Post Office Department has enjoyed as satisfactory public relations as any other department of government, but so far as my area is concerned, it has now sacrificed in large measure that satisfactory relationship.

In Toronto the change has resulted in the loss of a considerable number of permanent staff. The post office is finding it impossible to replace these experienced members with efficient help. I am informed that most of the help the department is now getting is sent from the employment offices, where the unemployed are given the choice of either taking a job with the post office or of having no unemployment insurance. The result is that not only is the Post Office Department getting inexperienced employees, but they are inefficient as well, and are thus slowing up the service.

I do not think anything can be done about retracing steps so far as the change is concerned. I am told that today it would be impossible for the Post Office Department to go back to the system of two deliveries, even if it wanted to. There is just not enough help available to reinstitute a system of two deliveries a day, even if the department so desired. .

I was surprised to learn that the ratio of temporary to permanent employees in the Post Office Department is twenty per cent. An estimate I made in the Toronto area would indicate that the percentage of temporary to permanent employees is much higher than that. One of the complaints postal employees

are registering is that they have been kept on for years as temporary employees, without being given permanent employment, with the result that they have become disillusioned. The whole feature of permanency, as applied to the section of the civil service connected with the Post Office Department, has been destroyed, and this has had a disrupting effect upon the entire service. The department is probably doing all that can be done at the present time; but the whole trouble lies in the fact that this system of one delivery a day was instituted by headquarters at Ottawa through a blanket order applicable across the country without their first having a proper study made, and without any effort on their part to find out before the order was issued just what the effect would be in a centre like Toronto.

The minister has stated that there is competition from private enterprise in the matter of wages, and he has stated also that a shortage of manpower exists; but these things existed all through the war. During the war there was a much greater shortage of manpower than there is today, and there was the same competition from private enterprise, but there was no disruption of postal service. We went

through the war without any disruption of that most essential service. There were good relations between the Post Office Department and the public, and there was reasonable contentment on the part of the employees with their working conditions and pay. That has been disrupted because of the steps which have been taken, and I do not think the post office is going to be able to remedy this condition for a long time to come.

I think it unfortunate that this disruption has taken place. All that can be done is for the department to continue taking the steps they are taking. I understand that surveys are being made, but it will be some time before the data collected can be tabulated and the necessary steps taken to remedy the situation. If this idea of carrying employees of the department for years on a temporary basis-this applies to other departments as well-were discontinued and employees given a permanent status after a reasonable length of time, I think the situation would be eased somewhat.

The practice of the civil service carrying over fifty per cent of its personnel for years on a temporary basis is nothing but a cheap labour racket. That is all it is. There is no reason in the world why any department should carry such a high percentage of its employees for years on a temporary basis.

In view of the situation that has developed I think the Post Office Department will have to give serious consideration to increasing

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II, 1951


the scale of wages paid to postal employees. Never a week goes by but members of parliament receive copies of the advertisements put out by the Post Office Department for letter carriers, porters and other inside help. As the minister has said, the department is not getting enough help, and certainly is not getting the efficient type of help that it needs. This is the result partly of the disruption which has taken place, partly of the adverse advertising which the Post Office Department has received within the last two or three months, and partly of the way in which those who are employed have been subjected to working hours that are longer than necessary over a long period of time without any assurance of overtime pay. The minister's statement last week that these employees would be paid for their overtime has had and will have a favourable effect. But I still think that before the Postmaster General can put his department on an efficient basis, consideration will have to be given to increasing the salaries paid to postal employees. Otherwise he is just not going to be able to get suitable help to enable him to give sufficient and efficient service to the public.


PC

Agar Rodney Adamson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Adamson:

Mr. Chairman, I want to corroborate everything the hon. member for York South has said. Conditions almost identical to those he has mentioned exist in my district, except that they may be slightly worse. I am informed that last week there were no less than six postal walks which could not be serviced for days at a time, and that the postal authorities in Toronto had to ask members of their staff who were doing other things to fill in as postal carriers in order to have the mail delivered.

The delivery of mail transcends any dol-lars-and-cents consideration. You just cannot put it simply and solely on an economic basis. The delivery of mail is part of our economic and social life, and we cannot have it interfered with if the work of the country is to be carried on efficiently. Therefore we are faced directly with the following problem.

At the present time the Post Office Department is having great difficulty in getting personnel to handle its rapidly increasing business in the Toronto area and particularly in the suburbs as represented by the ridings of York South and York West. If men cannot be obtained to undertake this work-chiefly for economic reasons, although there are others as well-then we must be prepared either to increase the rates charged for the delivery of mail, or to have the Post Office Department operate with a deficit. There are no other ways out of the difficulty.

Post Office Act

I have found the postal authorities extremely co-operative. Every day some member of the Toronto district postal office is in York West investigating a complaint or trying to iron out some frightfully difficult situation which has arisen. In practically every case they come to me, or to the ratepayers' association or to the industry which has complained, and say that because of the regulations they cannot make the change that is asked for. If the regulations are the cause of the slowing up in postal deliveries, then I suggest that consideration should be given to altering them.

As I say, this business of the post office and the delivery of mail transcends any purely economic consideration. The carrying of heavier and heavier loads by the letter carriers is something that must be remedied. I realize that the mail is there and that it has to be carried out; but when the volume of mail becomes so great that men cannot possibly lift it and deliver it, then something must be done. With all the good will in the world on the part of the minister and the department, unless extra help is made available that mail is going to remain undelivered. It is simply a physical matter; there is not the physical strength to do the job, and unless you make it attractive enough for people to undertake this work, the situation is not going to be remedied.

I have great sympathy for the Postmaster General and his employees. I know the problems they are facing, particularly in a district such as mine, which is growing at such an extraordinary rate. I want, though, to mention once more the matter of sub-post offices. In the several cases I have brought to the attention of the minister we' thought we had all the arrangements made, but at the last moment they blew up in our faces, to use a common expression. It was impossible to get proper accommodation even after the postal authorities had toured the district. Presumably that is because the department could not offer people enough to induce them to undertake this work; and if that is because of the regulations, then the regulations should be changed so this work will be made attractive and people will undertake it. Large districts now are almost completely without mail service, or the only post office available is a considerable distance away. In my district, and I imagine this is the case around most large cities, transportation is a problem. As a result mail is now picked up perhaps once or twice a week, and collecting mail at a sub-post office is no longer a matter of a few minutes; you have to line up and wait for a half hour or more before you can get your mail. That situation is intolerable,

Post Office Act

and I think something should be done, either through the civil service commission or the department itself, so that this work, which is just as essential as any other work in Canada, may be carried on efficiently.

Finally I would ask the Postmaster General if he can give me the wage scale in three principal classifications of employees, mail porters, postal delivery men and some other classification, in 1939 and today. Then I have this suggestion to make: that if we cannot clear up the situation through the present machinery, a committee of this house be set up next session so that the whole question of the Post Office Department may be gone into. Whether it means we shall have to pay more for the service, or that the post office will have to operate at a deficit, the facts should be presented to this parliament so that the people of Canada will know what they are facing. They should know whether the present intolerable conditions have come about because of the regulations, or because of inflationary pressure or for what other reason, and whether they will have to accept either an increase in the rates or be prepared to have the post office operate at a loss. These are technical problems which I believe should be considered next session by a committee of this house.

Topic:   II, 1951
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June 11, 1951