OTTAWA, ON (NEWS1130) – Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt is calling on CP Rail’s 4,800 striking workers to voluntarily go back to their jobs.

Back-to-work legislation that will end a week-long strike by CP Rail workers was put on Parliament’s equivalent of a red-eye bullet train.

It will now go to the Conservative-dominated Senate for Royal Assent, meaning the legislation will likely take effect Friday.

But, that’s not fast enough for Raitt, who wants CP trains to start moving tomorrow morning.

The Conservative government used its majority to limit debate on the back-to-work bill, setting in motion a series of votes that saw the bill passed early this morning.

“The economy’s being affected, there’s no question about that at all,” Raitt told the Commons during question period.

Fast-tracking the bill through all stages took all of last night, with votes in the Commons carrying on after midnight. Bill C39 was eventually passed just before 1:30 a.m.

“It’s getting very tight for people who rely upon CP Rail and the transit of their goods and the receipt of their materials,” says Raitt. “And as such, for the greater good of the economy, we feel that the time has come where the negotiations have stopped, the work stoppage continues and we really do need to make sure that CP Rail gets working on Thursday.”

But the union, backed by Opposition MPs, says the government’s quick threat to order 4,800 engineers and conductors back on the job shortly after the strike began last Wednesday short-circuited talks at the bargaining table.

“When will these Conservatives figure out that workers are the backbone of the economy?” charges NDP critic Irene Mathyssen, noting a cut to the workers’ pension fund “is at the heart of this dispute.”

Mathyssen accuses CP Rail, which posted a profit of $570 million last year, of going after the pension plan to increase its profitability and says the Harper government is enabling the company.

“Why are Conservatives always picking winners and losers and why is it that workers’ pension are always under attack?”

Raitt points out that the back-to-work legislation calls for a government-appointed arbitrator to resolve outstanding differences within 90 days, and “doesn’t pre-determined any issue.”

“We are acting on the side of the Canadian economy and the general Canadian public interest,” says Raitt.

“We’re not the ones taking sides,” adds the minister. “I don’t think the Opposition can say the same thing.”

It’s the third time in the past year the Harper government has moved to legislate an end to a labour dispute and critics say the government is tilting the field in favour of employers and against workers.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair opened the evening debate by saying the Conservatives have sent employers a clear signal with the repeated legislated back-to-work threats at Canada Post, Air Canada and now CP Rail.

“It send a terrible message that legislative settlement is the new labour relations norm in Canada,” says Mulcair. “There is no incentive for the parties to negotiate in good faith if they know the government will step in.”

About 100 CP Rail workers, members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, protested on the steps below Parliament’s Peace Tower, where they met with a number of Liberal and NDP MPs.