TORONTO — Industry groups are speaking out in the wake of Air Canada’s capacity and job cuts, just the latest cuts Canada’s airlines have been forced to make as they navigate severely reduced demand and travel restrictions amid the pandemic.
On Jan. 13 Air Canada announced it will further reduce its system capacity for the first quarter of 2021 by an additional 25%.
Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, says the country is at a very high risk of losing crucial air connectivity, especially to smaller communities.
“Today’s announcement by Air Canada of further layoffs, including layoffs at Air Canada Express carriers, and cuts to service follows an announcement by WestJet last week that it too is reducing service and employment levels, due to the pandemic,” said McNaney.
“These announcements capture the stark reality that we are losing connectivity and service to communities across Canada at a rate that threatens to unwind billions of dollars in investment made over the past ten years, investment that has supported hundreds of thousands of jobs, and driven a level of connectivity and service that underpinned economic growth in every region of Canada,” he adds.
Tens of thousands of aviation employees have lost their jobs, billions of dollars in aircraft have been parked, and market capacity has been reduced by more than 80% since the pandemic began, he says, as carriers struggle to provide some level of service, while maintaining financial viability.
“Canada’s major airlines are still operating without sector-specific aid and are consequently losing market share to foreign competitors who have received strong sectoral support from their governments,” notes McNaney.
On Nov. 8 then-Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced a financial package for Canada’s airlines, one that would be contingent on refunds, which for agents could trigger mass commission recalls. Since Nov. 8 there have been no further details about an airlines industry bailout.
A new Transport Minister, Omar Alghabra, was appointed to the post on Jan. 12 and asked for patience as he read up on the files.
Says McNaney: “Beyond public statements, we need action on financial support, and full engagement with industry to develop a truly robust and effective testing strategy that incorporates rapid antigen testing tied to quarantine and border restrictions. This is the clear path forward for aviation, and reflects the approach being taken by countries around the world.
“The decisions made by the federal government in the coming weeks and months will directly and forcefully impact the future of Canadian aviation, the future of our employees, and the future of the communities we serve.”
“IT BAFFLES ME THAT OUR FEDERAL GOVT. CONTINUES TO REMAIN SILENT”
Meanwhile Canada’s largest union in the private sector, Unifor, says it believes the recently announced workforce reductions at Air Canada could have been lessened if the federal government had developed a plan to support Canada’s aviation industry.
“Today’s announcement leaves airline workers with continued disappointment in the federal government’s lack of action to support the industry,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.
“For months, we have been demanding that the federal government develop a long-lasting plan and provide financial support to save the industry from total collapse.”
Dias notes that Air Canada has announced plans to close its Yellowknife, Kamloops, Gander and Goose Bay regional offices and reduce its first-quarter capacity by 25% resulting in 1,700 job losses. The job cuts will also affect more than 200 workers at its Express carriers. This is in addition to the more than 20,000 layoffs previously announced last May.
“It baffles me that our federal government continues to remain silent when in the past week we have seen layoffs at WestJet and now Air Canada. The federal government can no longer operate as business as usual. Support for airline workers needs to be an immediate priority of the incoming Minister of Transport,” said Dias.
Though the CEWS program provided some job protection measures for Canadian airline workers, the sector has seen unprecedented layoffs and furloughed workers, he adds.
On Jan. 13 Unifor, alongside Air Canada Pilots Association, Air Line Pilots Association and Canadian Airline Dispatchers Association, issued a joint statement on the federal government to make a direct and meaningful financial contribution to the already devastated airline industry.