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CALGARY — “It may sound bizarre” to hear an “airline guy” encourage people to stay at home, but that’s exactly what WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims did in his heartfelt video message to WestJetters and Canadians announcing that the airline will be putting almost 6,400 of its employees back on the payroll to take advantage of the federal government’s wage subsidy program.
Legislation for CEWS, the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy, is still in the works but is on track to be passed in Ottawa as the federal government works to keep as many Canadians as possible employed with income amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The news follows a similar move from Air Canada. On March 30 Air Canada said it would have to put 16,500 members of its unionized workforce on off-duty status and put some 1,300 managers on furlough. Yesterday Air Canada announced that following an analysis of publicly available information on the CEWS, discussions with Department of Finance officials on certain questions of interpretation, and subject to its adoption into law substantially as announced, the airline intends to adopt the CEWS for the benefit of its 36,000 Canadian-based employee workforce, with union support.
Also yesterday, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that CEWS would be more flexible than first announced. To qualify businesses would need to show a 15% decline in revenues in March 2020, instead of 30%. The 30% applies for subsequent months. Businesses can also prove their revenue losses by comparing to previous months rather than year over year.
Trudeau says businesses need to survive and workers need to get paid if the economy is to “come roaring back after this crisis.”
In his video, Sims said that “after substantial discussion with the federal government, we’ll be bringing almost 6,400 employees back on the payroll”, once the legislation has been approved. “This does not automatically mean they will be coming back to work, as there may simply not be enough work there for them. But it will help them makes ends meet and I am grateful for the hard work of the government of Canada and of all governments across Canada to provide businesses like ours with the tools to continue operating through these most challenging of times.”
He added: “This may sound bizarre, to hear an airline guy encourage people to stay at home, but by limiting our own travel, we are protecting the safety of our nurses, our doctors, orderlies and caretakers.”
Sims said WestJet is committed to serving the 38 Canadian cities still in its network, in the wake of border closures to transborder and international travel. “We want to be there for all 38,” he said, adding “we will not be grounding this airline unless specifically instructed to by the government.”
“A stable network is the strongest platform from which to recover and rebuild and keep Canadian airfares fair for many, many years to come,” he said.
Sims added: “Canada is seeing the best of WetJet every day.”
With file from The Canadian Press