Emily Jackson| 21 May 2020
Air Canada will not continue to use the federal emergency wage subsidy and has instead given employees the option of unpaid leaves, reduced work hours or resigning, the union representing the airline’s flight attendants said Thursday.
Canada’s largest airline said last week it plans to cut up to 20,000 people, or 60 per cent of its workforce, given plummeting demand for air travel during the global pandemic. Air Canada has slashed its flight capacity by about 90 per cent due to international travel bans and stay-at-home orders.
The Air Canada component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents flight attendants at Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge, said it’s disappointed the airline is cutting thousands of employees in a way that will prevent workers from accessing COVID-19 government aid.
The union said employees must choose between voluntary unpaid leaves lasting six to 24 months, reduced work hours with no top up or resigning — voluntary measures that would prevent employees from accessing the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that provides laid off workers with up to $2,000 per month.
“The government and Air Canada are washing their hands of this devastating situation and the only options our members are left with is either quit or get laid off and go on (employment insurance),” Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada Component of CUPE, said in a statement.
“This is shameful and disrespectful towards the workers who have built this airline, who faced this epidemic on the front lines, and who were among the first in Canada to get sick with COVID-19 while doing their jobs.”
Lesosky called on the government and Air Canada to work together on better options for workers.
Air Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the layoffs and how, or if, it will use the new government assistance program for large employers with more than $300 million in annual revenue.