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Canada Post strike: Residents ask if they really need a postman

Like postal services around the world, Canada Post has seen a rapid decline in first-class mail. It tried to adjust by cutting wages, prompting a strike that's lasted three weeks so far.

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The entry to the Canada Post operation is padlocked in Halifax, on June 15. Letter carriers working for the national postal service have been on strike for three weeks so far.

Andrew Vaughn/The Canadian Press/AP

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When Canadian letter carriers went on strike three weeks ago they hoped to force the national postal service, Canada Post, to back down from a cost-cutting proposal to dramatically reduce wages.

Three weeks later, lawmakers are preparing to legislate them back to work, but Canadians are asking just how much a modern cyber-connected society needs the post office anyway.

“If I get my mail, I get my mail, but if I really have to do something I go on the Internet,” says Janina, a bank teller.

True, some businesses say they have had to scramble to try to fill orders and receive payments that would usually be sent by mail, and some charities say they are missing out on donations. But observers say that by going on strike, postal workers have likely sealed their own fate by proving it's possible to function without daily mail delivery.

“Many find mail in paper form to be quaint; it no longer plays a central role in society,” an editorial in The Globe and Mail daily newspaper concluded. “The strike will only accelerate that trend by making online converts of those who have hitherto been reluctant.”

A worldwide trend toward e-mail, online banking, electronic bill payments, and communication through social media is causing a dramatic drop in revenue for the postal services around the world.

Canada Post has seen a rapid decline in first-class mail. It says the organization delivered 17 percent fewer letters last year than five years ago – the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) says it has dropped by just 6 percent – and anticipates a further 30 percent drop over the next five years. At the same time, it has to deliver to more homes as Canada’s population grows.

The volume of first-class mail has also dropped dramatically in the United States. The US Postal Service is set up to deliver 300 billion pieces of mail a year, but currently handles just 170 billion pieces and predicts that will fall to 150 billion by 2020. The USPS is looking to make reforms such as cutting back to five-day-a-week delivery and closing some of its post offices.

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