For the second time in less than a year, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has stepped into a labour conflict at Air Canada, preventing a work stoppage that would have seen thousands of ground workers go on strike and pilots get locked out. “Given our fragile economy, we’ve said before, a work stoppage is unacceptable,” said Raitt, speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday.
Raitt has referred the two labour disputes to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, asking whether the work done at a national airline can be deemed an essential service, thus preventing such disruptions in the future. The Conservative government’s propensity to wade into labour disputes, as it has done at the Port of Montreal, Marine Atlantic and Air Canada last October, may be bringing opposing parties back to bargaining table in this case. The CBC reported Thursday that negotiations for the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers resumed meetings with the airline’s management on Thursday.
Still, by preventing workers at the airline to strike, the government could be eroding in the unions’ ability to hold out on key demands for the employees they represent. Liberal leader Bob Rae has said the government’s approach to labour disruptions is a “farce,” while the NDP says the Conservatives are interfering with a union’s right to strike and negotiate with with employers on its own terms. As Capt. Paul Strachan, a spokesman for Air Canada’s pilots, said at a press conference: “Air Canada needs to behave like the private sector corporation that it is and stop running to the government every time it has a problem.”