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Air Canada to ask flight attendants to reduce hours, take leave or resign: union memo

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The union representing Air Canada flight attendants says the airline is set to ask employees to work less — or not at all — as concerns over job security buffet the airline industry.

Air Canada will ask workers to slash their schedules, go on leave for up to two years or resign with travel privileges, according to an internal bulletin to members from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) sent out Thursday night and obtained by The Canadian Press.

The memo states that CUPE is in discussions with Air Canada over continuing the federal wage subsidy, which the airline has not committed to maintain past June 6.

“We know this news is not what any of us were expecting,” states the bulletin, signed by the president of CUPE’s Air Canada component and two other union officials.

“The reality is that COVID-19 has severely impacted the demand for air travel over the past few months and into the foreseeable future. As such, there is no denying that we are dealing with the largest surplus of cabin personnel in our history.”

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on April 8. More than 200 Air Canada planes remain grounded amid the collapse of global travel triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Air Canada confirmed that further cuts are imminent.

“We expect that both the overall industry and our airline will be considerably smaller for some time, which will unfortunately result in significant reductions in both fleet and employee levels,” the airline said in an email.

It did not answer questions about whether it would drop the Canada emergency wage subsidy, which Ottawa recently extended through August, or how many layoffs were upcoming.

Air Canada announced five weeks ago it would rehire 16,500 laid-off employees — including 6,800 flight attendants — via the subsidy program, which covers 75 per cent of a worker’s normal hourly wages or up to $847 per week.

An Air Canada worker cleans a ticketing station at Pearson on April 8. Air Canada announced five weeks ago it would rehire 16,500 laid-off employees via the federal wage subsidy program. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The vast majority of rehired Air Canada employees have stayed at home under the subsidy as more than 200 planes remain grounded amid the collapse of global travel triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Air Canada is not contributing to most worker wages, the airline has continued to put money toward pensions and benefits, a continuous cash drain at a company that lost more than $1 billion last quarter.

The Montreal-based company has been bleeding cash since mid-March, slashing its flight capacity by over 90 per cent ahead of even fewer expected passengers between April and June.

Though traffic is expected to pick up somewhat before year’s end, more than 200 planes remain grounded and Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said last week the recovery will be slow, with at least three years of subpar earnings.



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