Many might believe that Canada is an essentially urban country, with its population concentrated in the big cities. But at least one-fifth of Canadians live and work in rural and small town communities, and many more of us reside in suburbs and satellite towns. Where we live is part of who we are, but it also affects how we are treated and the services we can access. Those of us who live and work in rural areas do not always get the same respect as urban residents or workers, especially from Canada Post.
On an average day everywhere in this country, more than 7000 rural and suburban mail carriers (RSMCs) are driving the equivalent of ten trips around the globe. Sixty-eight per cent of them are women. Theyre delivering mail to more than 4 million addresses across Canada, including 750,000 rural mailboxes. And theyre maintaining and fuelling their own vehicles to do it. Theyre part of a vast network bringing goods and services to rural and suburban areas. And theyre doing it all for less than their urban counterparts.
For many years, rural mail carriers were classified as independent contractors. In the past, people had to bid against their neighbors for rural routes -- ending up with often less than minimum wage and no benefits. In 2003, following decades of organizing by the rural mail carriers, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) made an agreement with Canada Post to contract them in. The RSMCs became employees with rights and benefits and protections. Getting unionized has helped rural mail carriers, which, in turn, has contributed to the prosperity of their local communities. They have seen some decent wage increases and better job security as well as getting vehicle compensation and holidays.
But in many ways, rural mail carriers still find themselves on the wrong side of the rural-urban divide. Their work is not recognized equally at Canada Post and they have a long way to go to achieve parity with urban mail carriers, even though they do the same work. That is why the CUPW is currently negotiating a new contract for rural mail carriers on the principles of equality, respect and progress. Rural mail carriers shouldnt have to settle for less just because of where they live and work. Basic issues such as a fair hourly wage, company uniforms, an adequate route measurement system, and health and safety protections, among others, are on the negotiations table now.
All workers should be able to expect fair and equal treatment. All workers deserve safe and healthy workplaces. Rural residents and businesses also deserve more from their public postal service. So, the next time you meet or speak with your rural mail carrier, let them know you support them. They are the heart of your community - take their issues to heart.
Denis Lemelin, National President
Canadian Union of Poster Workers