Air Canada to lay off over 5K flight attendants as coronavirus halts travel: union

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Canadians stranded and waiting for flights home'
Coronavirus: Canadians stranded and waiting for flights home
Canadians around the world are booing to return home. But as Seán OShea reports, they’re struggling to get home – Mar 19, 2020

The union representing Air Canada‘s flight attendants says more than 5,000 members will be temporarily laid off as the airline severely limits its travel network over the coronavirus pandemic.

The layoffs, which the Air Canada Component of CUPE says will take effect over the next 48 hours, will include roughly 3,600 Air Canada members and all 1,549 Air Canada Rouge members, according to a statement posted to the union’s website Thursday.

“This is unprecedented, and not something any of us want to go through,” the union’s top staff said in the joint statement. “The reality is real, and we are working around the clock ensuring you are represented.”

Air Canada announced Wednesday it would “gradually suspend” the majority of its international flights by the end of March as countries around the world, including Canada, close their borders to international travellers to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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The airline will only serve 13 U.S. airports through at least the month of April, while six international destinations will be maintained as connections to bring Canadian citizens back home to Canada. Domestic travel will also be reduced from 62 airports being served to 40.

According to CUPE, those reductions — which the union says wipes out at least 80 per cent of Air Canada’s network — means Air Canada Rouge will be grounded entirely, with “zero flying hours for the month of April 2020.”

Click to play video: 'Travellers at Montreal airport struggling to get home as international borders close'
Travellers at Montreal airport struggling to get home as international borders close

The union says the company will begin contacting members over the next 48 hours to place them on off-duty status, meaning they will be allowed to collect employment insurance and maintain benefits, as well as travel benefits. Members will also be allowed to volunteer for off-duty status.

In a statement, Air Canada said it was having discussions with all its unions to begin placing employees on “temporary, off-duty status.”

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“Employees would be returned to active duty status when we ramp up our network schedule as conditions allow,” a spokesperson said.

The airline could not provide final numbers on how many workers would be impacted by the discussions.

The three unions representing Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge pilots, customer sales and service agents, and cargo and technical employees have not yet shared how many of their members could see layoffs.

Global News has reached out to them for comment.

WestJet said on Monday it was suspending international flights for at least 30 days, and was suspending outbound international ticket sales through March 22.

CUPE 4070, the union representing flight attendants for WestJet and its budget subsidiary Swoop, has shared a list of options it says will be presented to members by WestJet on Wednesday. Those options include taking early retirement, a one-time “early out” payment, or a leave of absence.


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