One back-handed benefit of the postal strike for the industry

The threat of a work stoppage at Canada Post may lead to a positive outcome in a back-handed way, by potentially raising awareness among regulators and consumers about the value of electronic documents, an Insurance Bureau of Canada official suggests.

“If there is a postal disruption, it could be a good thing in terms of driving more consumers to electronic and online sources that insurance companies are offering,” Pete Karageorgos, IBC’s director of consumer and industry relations for Ontario, said Wednesday in an interview.

Karageorgos noted there are drawbacks to a postal strike. Some consumers depend on mail service because they do not use the Internet, and it will be more expensive for companies to send documents by courier than by Canada Post.

About 50,000 unionized Canada Post employees are working without a collective agreement. Therefore, the workers could go on strike or the employer could lock them out.

Karageorgos said he does not know of any studies indicating how much a Canada Post labour disruption could cost the industry.

Despite recent advances in electronic commerce, there are some insurance documents – such as cancellation notices and pink slips that prove a motorist has insurance – that need to be sent by mail.

Insurance companies might be working on plans to use other forms of deliver such as private couriers, Karageorgos said. There would “likely be an increase in cost” if that happens.

Leaders of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers are negotiating the terms of a new collective agreement with Canada Post. CUPW represents several categories of workers, including letter carriers, people who sort the mail, drivers, technicians and maintenance staff.

Those workers do not have a collective agreement. This means they are in a legal strike position and the employer could lock them out.

CUPW members have voted in favour of a strike mandate. This does not mean they are necessarily going on strike. But this does mean that if negotiations break down, union leaders could give 72-hour notice to go on strike.

“Having a labour disruption with the postal service may in fact do more to highlight the need for regulators and for consumers to use electronic means to interact with insurance companies,” Karageorgos said.

IBC is pushing for electronic proof of auto insurance but at the moment, Nova Scotia is the only province that allows this, Karageorgos noted.

Ontario and other provinces still require motorists to carry paper pink slips to prove their vehicles are insured. So an Ontario motorist, for example, can be fined if he or she is stopped by a police officer and does not have a paper copy of the pink slip in the vehicle.

“There are less and less letters being delivered because more people are transitioning to electronic communications and so regulators need to recognize that the environment has moved forward and the regulations need to move in pace with that,” Karageorgos said.

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