Raitt sends AC, unions to CIRB

Hear that? That’s the huge sigh of relief emanating from the travel agency community across Canada following the news that federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has referred the increasingly bitter labour negotiations between Air Canada and its 8,600 ground workers and 3,000 pilots to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB). Minister Raitt issued the referral — pursuant to the Canada Labour Code — in order to determine the activities that Air Canada may be required to maintain as relates to the health and safety of Canadians. The referral to the CIRB means that the IAMAW cannot commence a strike and Air Canada cannot lock out its pilots at least until the matter has been determined by the board. The strike deadline by the IAMAW and Air Canada’s lockout notice to ACPA, had both originally been scheduled for 00:01 am ET on March 12 and have now been cancelled. That means there will be no disruption of service over March Break and Air Canada’s full schedule remains unchanged. While Raitt’s move ended the uncertainty for the moment, it’s pretty clear that the relations between Air Canada and its workers have grown increasingly bitter — with tentative agreements being announced by bargaining teams on both sides of the table, only to be rejected by membership. On Thursday (March 8) — prior to Raitt’s announcement — Air Canada and its pilots had squared off for a showdown, with the airline announcing that it would be locking them out unless they accepted “its final and best offer” and giving them a deadline of noon on March 8. AC’s executive vice-president and COO, Duncan Dee said at that time that the carrier needed “to bring closure to the ongoing climate of labour uncertainty at Air Canada which is affecting our customers, destabilizing the company and our operations, and damaging the Air Canada brand.” The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) responded by saying that its members would vote on that offer, but the union’s executive would recommend that members reject it in order to “send a message to their employer to get serious about negotiations.” ACPA president, Captain Paul Strachan said: “The corporation pulled a dramatic u-turn [March 7] on the first day of our return to bargaining. After committing to a federal mediation process that was to last up to 180 days, the corporation instead chose to table what it termed its ‘final’ offer” only 23 days into the process, without any serious effort to bridge our differences by negotiating in good faith.” As for what’s next, well that’s up to the CIRB.