WestJet suspends nearly 300 employees not fully vaccinated for COVID-19

From The Globe and Mail – link to source story

Eric Atkins, Transportation Reporter | 1 November 2021

The federal government says airlines and railways must have policies that require employees be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 30, the same day on which their passengers must prove they have been inoculated against the deadly virus. Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

WestJet Airlines Ltd. says it has suspended about 290 employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The suspended workers – about 4 per cent of WestJet’s 7,300-person staff – are not being paid for one month and could face firing if they do not comply with the government-mandated vaccine policy of the Calgary-based airline.

Ottawa said airlines and railways must have policies that require employees be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 30, the same deadline at which passengers were required to prove they have been inoculated against the potentially deadly virus.

Morgan Bell, a WestJet spokeswoman, said the airline has handled a “minimal” number of exemptions to the policy from its staff.

“The WestJet Group has implemented the federal government’s mandatory vaccination policy for air travellers and is operating as a fully vaccinated airline,” Ms. Bell said. “All WestJet Group employees are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and full vaccination status is a requirement of employment for all future employees hired by the WestJet Group.”

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents flight attendants at Canada’s airlines, said 47 members at Air Transat and 30 at Sunwing were on unpaid leave as of last Thursday for not being fully vaccinated, or stating they would not comply by the Oct. 30 deadline.

At Air Canada, the carrier is hiring 1,800 flight attendants, CUPE said, to cover for employees who are suspended or declining to return to active duty after being laid off in the pandemic. It is not clear how many suspensions are because of vaccination refusals.

Air Canada said last week about 1,080 staff had yet to comply with the vaccine requirement.

Air Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing did not immediately respond to questions on Monday.

The Canadian airline industry and much of the global one were grounded and incurred steep losses because of the pandemic, which prompted governments to close borders, bar travellers and impose quarantines, beginning in March, 2020.

Air Canada, which employs 27,000 people, recently recalled all its flight attendants back to work as it adds routes amid higher vaccination rates among Canadians.

– Nicolas Van Praet contributed to this article