Bargaining process eroded by government, pilots say
Published Tuesday, March 13, 2012 8:37AM EDT
The head of the Air Canada pilots union says the airline lost all incentive to bargain after the federal government blocked any possible work stoppage.
Last week Labour Minister Lisa Raitt referred ongoing labour disputes at the airline to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, and Monday she introduced legislation to block strike action altogether.
Paul Strachan, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association, said Raitt's intervention has eroded the collective bargaining process.
"The largest stumbling block is the fact there's no bargaining occurring, there's no way to characterize talks of any kind," Strachan told Canada AM.
"Air Canada has dropped a massively concessionary proposal on the table and walked away, so clearly it doesn't feel the need to bargain and I wonder why."
Raitt's intervention followed an Air Canada threat last week to lock out its pilots Monday. The union representing its mechanics, baggage handlers and ramp crews threatened to strike on the same day.
Raitt has consistently said a labour disruption, which would have started as many families prepared to travel over March Break, would have been devastating to the economy and would have inconvenienced Canadians.
Strachan, however, said Air Canada is a private company and shouldn't get special treatment by the federal government.
"I mean come on, are we in some sort of indentured servitude here because we're transportation workers?" he asked, adding that in recent years Air Canada pilots have agreed to deep cuts of 15 to 30 per cent in order to help keep the struggling airline afloat.
"The pilots have continuously given and are extremely frustrated at the results," he said.
The legislation introduced on Monday will be debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday, and likely passed by Tuesday night or Wednesday.
Raitt called the legislation a "last resort," saying the government had to step in because the two sides can't come to an agreement on their own.
The latest action marks the third time the Conservative government has waded into Air Canada union negotiations in the past year.
She said there's nothing stopping the airline and union from working out their own agreement on a contract, so the government doesn't have to get involved.
"What we're saying is if you can't reach your own deal, here's the process you're going to follow and it's going to be arbitration and it's going to be putting the parties in a room and having a third party decide which way it's going to be, and they're going to have their collective agreement and that is the process they're facing," Raitt said.
Raitt also acknowledged the government likely would have intervened even if the potential labour action didn't coincide with March Break, saying 90,000 Canadians use Air Canada on a daily basis and many would be stranded if flights were disrupted.
She pointed out that Strachan himself appeared before a Senate committee last year, calling Air Canada a "cornerstone" of the Canadian economy -- a perspective she said she agrees with completely.