Sat, Mar 10, 2012 - Page 10 News List

Minister moves to block stoppage of work at Air Canada

AP, TORONTO

Canadian Minister of Labor Lisa Raitt on Thursday moved to block a work stoppage at Air Canada after the airline threatened to lock out its pilots on Monday, two days after its largest union issued a strike notice with the same deadline.

Raitt said she is sending the dispute between the airline and both the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. The action prevents a strike or a lockout at the country’s largest airline.

Air Canada said it had hoped its “very fair” offer to preserve pilots’ compensation and benefits would be accepted by the 3,000-member pilots union, but since it was rejected, the airline now had no choice but to take action.

“We need to bring closure to the ongoing climate of labor uncertainty at Air Canada which is affecting our customers, destabilizing the company and our operations, and damaging the Air Canada brand,” Air Canada executive vice president and chief operating officer Duncan Dee said in a statement.

Air Canada’s notice to its pilots comes two days after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union issued a notice saying it intended to strike on Monday at midnight unless a new contract was signed by then. The union represents about 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents at Air Canada.

Raitt, who has intervened in the past to prevent strikes in previous disputes at the airline, last month imposed a six-month mediation process after the airline’s pilots voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike. The threat of a lockout comes less than a month into that six-month mediation process.

An earlier two-month effort by a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was unable to bring the two sides together.

The union said on Thursday that the airline pulled “a dramatic U-turn” on Wednesday.

“After committing to a federal mediation process that was to last up to 180 days, the corporation instead chose to table what it termed its ‘final’ offer only 23 days into the process, without any serious effort to bridge our differences by negotiating in good faith,” union president Captain Paul Strachan said.

At dispute are wages and a sizable pension deficit, which the pilots union said Air Canada had not dealt with, despite the sale of US$2.02 billion in assets.

Air Canada’s offer on Thursday was for a five-year agreement with wage increases of 2 percent in each of the first three years and 3 percent in the final two years.

However, the union said the recent offer demands even more concessions from pilots.

“It is ridiculous that the corporation continues to focus on squeezing a group of professionals whose compensation represents only about 4 percent of revenue,” Strachan said.

For the machinists union, pension reform, wages, scheduling night shifts, mandatory overtime and the role of part-time staff are among the key issues, according to union members.

In its financial report issued last month, Air Canada said it lost US$60.5 million in the fourth quarter of last year and US$251 million for the year.

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