The far-reaching bill would also bar the airline from locking out employees until Air Canada and its unions reach a new collective agreement.
Citing concerns about the economy and families travelling for March break, Raitt moved last Thursday to head off a possible work stoppage this week. She referred the labour dispute to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), a move that ties the hands of labour and management until the board reports on the health and safety issues at stake.
But on Monday she took steps to guarantee there would not be a work stoppage at Air Canada regardless of when or what the CIRB reports.
“Our government will take further action to protect the travelling public, the Canadian economy and the public interest by introducing legislation to sustain air services,” she told reporters.
The bill, entitled the Protecting Air Services Act, bans a strike or lockout until new collective agreements are signed and brings in a federally appointed arbitrator to choose a final contract offer by the employer or union representatives. The legislation also bars any court action questioning the appointment of the arbitrator or the arbitrator’s decision.
The airline has also sent a stern warning to its pilots’ union against launching any illegal job action.
Harlan Clarke, Air Canada’s director of labour relations, writes in a March 11 letter that work slowdowns, refusals to perform draft or extra flying, sickouts amount to “an unlawful strike.”
Paul Strachan, president of the pilots’ union, said the union has called for no job action whatsoever.
Air Canada had served formal notice it intended to lock out the airline’s 3,000 pilots at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The lockout coincided with the strike date set by the machinists’ union, which includes 8,600 baggage handlers and mechanics.
The federal Conservatives have justified their repeated interventions in the airline’s labour talks by saying that any stoppage would have dire effects on a fragile Canadian recovery.
“You cannot have this impact on the economy and you can’t strand millions of Canadians without any means of getting back to their homes,” Raitt said Monday.
But the New Democrats say the government has no business interfering in a labour-management dispute.
“It’s taking fundamental rights away from the workers,” said NDP labour critic Yves Godin.
Raitt did not say how long it will take to pass the legislation but the majority government has brought in time limitations on debate, which means the bill is likely to pass this week. The NDP said it would not be able to hold up the legislation by filibustering.
But Raitt’s own officials concede that having Air Canada grounded because of a strike or lock-out might not be so crippling for passengers thanks to a variety of other transportation options.
“An Air Canada work stoppage would induce some passengers and firms to cancel their travel arrangements altogether, while others would opt for alternative airline companies or choose to travel by train,” according to an assessment prepared by the labour department.
The documents were obtained by the Star under Access to Information legislation.
The assessment notes that during a work stoppage by pilots in 1998, the company made arrangements with 15 airlines and VIA Rail to ensure that the travel plans by its 60,000 daily customers were “unaffected.”
Author: Les Whittington and Bruce Campion-Smith