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Air Canada – An Essential Service?

tail_hrNov. 1, 2011 – John McKenna, CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), comments on the recent labour disruptions at Air Canada, and opines as to whether or not the airline is an essential service or not.


November 1, 2011
By John McKenna

Nov. 1, 2011 – John McKenna, CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), comments on the recent labour disruptions at Air Canada, and opines as to whether or not the airline is an essential service or not.

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The Canada Labour Code stipulates that the Canadian Industrial Relations Board may be asked to review a labour conflict in order to determine if services have to continue “to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.”

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Labour Minister Lisa Raitt asked the Board to determine whether a disruption of service at Air Canada would pose such a risk to the public. The Minister also claimed that such a work stoppage would be “unacceptable in this time of fragile economy” and that she wanted to determine how “best to maintain and secure industrial peace”.

Are not essential services generally considered to be in areas such as health care, urban public transport, fire fighting and policing? In other words services for which there exists no viable alternative and where absence could cause serious prejudice? Sole service providers such as Canada Post and NAV CANADA also offer services considered by most as having a significant impact on the Canadian economy.

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Very few if any Air Canada domestic destinations are not also serviced by other airlines, thus weakening the health and safety argument. While not claiming that a work stoppage at Air Canada would not cause some temporary logistical headaches, it would by no means threaten the welfare of Canadians.

The Government’s self-proclaimed mandate to “protect the Canadian economy and Canadian jobs” should not be used as an argument to grant Air Canada a competitive advantage. A couple of years ago, that carrier was granted a discretionary government loan unavailable to any other carrier, and now Air Canada has a government protected labour peace, another privilege not available to any other Canadian carrier.

The best way for the government to minimize the health and safety risk to the public and to protect the Canadian economy and Canadian jobs would be to promote a level playing field for all Canadian carriers, not offer a preferred carrier huge and unfair advantages over all of its competitors. What needs to be made abundantly clear is that the air transport industry as a whole is an essential service, not just any single one of its carriers.