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Airlines must reach deal with unions on wage subsidies to be eligible for federal relief package

Canadian airlines must respect collective agreements and negotiate letters of understanding with unions to implement the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program.

Canada’s largest union is also calling on the federal government to make such a deal a pre-condition of eligibility to the federal airline relief package being developed to help companies to stay afloat in coming months.

“Right now, most Canadian airlines want to impose the terms of the 75 per cent wage subsidies on our members: no subsidy top-up, no benefits and no employer contribution to the pension plan,” said CUPE National President Mark Hancock. “Some airlines are also circumventing unions and imposing arbitrary deadlines to force flight attendants to choose between the CEWS or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.”

“Instead of violating our collective agreements, airlines should follow the example set by Flair Airlines. They have taken advantage of the wage subsidy program to rehire all laid-off flight attendants, but they’re also paying them a 25 per cent top-up and benefits,” added Hancock.

Under the CEWS, Ottawa assumes 75 per cent of workers’ wages, allowing Canadian airlines to bring thousands of flight attendants and other workers back onto the payroll, after they lost their jobs due to downsizing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All Canadian airlines should take advantage of the wage subsidy program and negotiate a deal with their respective union,” said CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury. “It’s a matter of equity and respect for our flight attendant members, who showed their professionalism during this crisis despite the risks to their own health.”

On top of the CEWS, CUPE reiterates that any federal relief for the airline industry must focus first and foremost on workers.

Last month, CUPE and other Canada’s airline unions told the federal government that any relief package must be developed in consultation with, and have the consent of, the bargaining agents representing airline workers. The package should maintain and return employees to the payroll, protect collective bargaining rights, and come with legal guarantees that financial support from the government will go first to support workers’ wages, salaries, and benefits.

CUPE and its allies were clear that this should not be a handout with no-strings-attached and expect that any public investment into the industry should result in a public stake in the company or companies involved.

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