July 14, 2017 7:09 pm
Updated: July 17, 2017 9:40 am

Union representing Pearson baggage crews concerned with safety after hiring of temp workers

The union that represents baggage handlers for Swissport at Pearson Airport says poorly-trained agency workers are compromising safety.

David Goldman / AP

The union that represents close to 700 ground crew workers at Pearson Airport says inadequate training of some temporary workers, brought on for the summer, is posing a safety risk.

In a letter to union members on Tuesday, Teamsters 419 vice-president Harjinder Badial said: “temporary agency workers remain a serious health and safety risk to our members.”

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Badial is referring to a recent move by aviation services company Swissport to bring on agency workers to handle “below the wing” operations including loading baggage, cleaning cabins and pre-flight wing balancing.

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The union is suggesting that the new workers are receiving inadequate training compared to senior workers who initially got three to four weeks of basic training.

“This is a major concern for us,” Badial told AM 640. “Right now what’s happening is these temporary agency employees are only getting about three to four days of training. From what I’ve understood we’ve had three to four major injuries that these temporary employees have sustained in addition to a few aircraft incidents as well.”

The union’s VP says in one instance a ladder was left up against the tail of an aircraft by an agency employee and resulted in damage.

“So what happens is when you onload and offload an aircraft, the actual aircraft does move slightly,” said Badial, “and because that temporary employee didn’t move that ladder, the actual tail of the aircraft rested on the ladder and sustained damage.”

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When asked about recent safety incidents involving agency workers, Swissport vice-president of operation Pierre Payette told AM 640 that there were no stats to support such claims.

“Safety is at the heart of everything we do at Swissport Canada,” said Payette,  “This is vital to ensure safe operations and consistent with industry standards. No safety issues or concerns have been reported and we are confident that protocols are being followed.”

Payette went on to say that initial training is typically 10 days delivered by Swissport International Certified Instructors, followed by more technical training after employees become comfortable performing basic functions.

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Swissport and Local 419 are currently negotiating a new collective agreement as the current contract expires on July 24th.

The union claims that Swissport is coming into negotiations looking to remove or reduce benefits members have had for over 40 years, and says that the hiring of over 200 agency workers is unusual and likely in preparation for a lockout.

Payette disputes the number of agency workers and says it’s actually closer to 100.

“We were short 120 people of summer requirements and to protect the integrity of services provided to the travelling public, we had no other option but to call on agency workers.”

Officials from the GTAA, union and Swissport are meeting on Monday ahead of contract negotiations which are officially set to resume between July 21 and July 24.

WATCH: Pearson airport confirmed an Air France plane was parked when a taxiing Pakistan International Airlines plane made ‘light contact’ and struck the parked plane. Ashley Carter reports. 

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