Monday, March 19, 2012

Air Canada sick out

I was on both CBC Edmonton and Calgary this morning discussion what appears to be a sick-out by Air Canada pilots on the weekend which contributed to flight delays and cancellation. The Calgary interview (the better of the two) is available here. Good heavens it is hard to be coherent at 6 am!

The short version is that Air Canada is involved in a contract dispute with its pilots and was set to lock them out. The feds intervened and have passed legislation sending this dispute to arbitration. You can follow this dispute and get a more nuanced analysis on David Doorey’s blog.

The federal legislation is fairly odious. It allows the government to pick the arbitrator. When the feds legislated an end to the postal strike, they appointed an arbitrator who did not know anything about labour relations and did not speak the language of those involved in the dispute. The federal court slapped the government around pretty badly for that. So, rather than acting reasonably, the Tories passed legislation depriving the court of the ability to review the arbitrator’s appointment.

The legislation also forces the arbitrator to take into account the “terms and conditions of employment of other airlines.” Air Canada pays its pilots better than its competitors so the federal government is basically legislating a pay cut.

Finally, the legislation directs the arbitrator to consider the “short- and long-term economic viability of the employer”. This tells the arbitrator that a company’s bottom line is more important than paying its employees a fair wage.

Workers aren’t stupid. They know this process is stacked against them—thus the sick out (if indeed that is what it was).

The sick out raises some fascinating questions because there are two competing legal regimes here. Air Canada has indicated it will be complaining to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. The Canada Labour Code says there shall be no illegal strikes. A sick-out is pretty clearly a strike under the Code.

But, the Canadian Aviation Regulations require pilots to declare themselves unable to fly if they are suffering or are likely to be suffering from fatigue or are otherwise unfit to perform their duties. The dilemma for the CIRB is whether it will order the pilots back to work, given the potential safety risk if the pilots are indeed unfit to fly. Indeed, I think it is an open question whether the CIRB even has the jurisdiction to order pilots to work given the public safety dimension,

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

  1. The pilot's union has released a statement denying there is a sick-out campaign under way: