WestJet plans to put nearly 6,400 employees who were laid off due to the novel coronavirus pandemic back on the payroll, the airline’s president and CEO announced Wednesday.
In a video message posted to social media, Ed Sims credited the federal government’s emergency wage subsidy program, which he said WestJet will apply for after the airline had “substantial” conversations with Ottawa.
Sims said the move would not necessarily mean those employees will be going back to work, “as there may simply not be enough work there for them.”
“It will help them make ends meet, and I’m grateful for the hard work of the government of Canada and of all governments across Canada to provide businesses like ours with the tools to continue operating through these most challenging of times,” he said.
WestJet laid off roughly half its workforce last month, amounting to 6,900 employees, as air travel plummeted due to travel restrictions enforced by the Canadian government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airlines around the world have been hit by similar restrictions imposed by most major countries, forcing them to reduce their networks or ground their planes entirely. Hundreds of thousands of airline and airport workers have been laid off.
Earlier Thursday, Air Canada said it would also apply for the wage subsidy program, putting 16,500 employees back on the payroll. Most of those workers will earn their income from home, the airline said.
Under the wage subsidy program, workers are paid 75 per cent of normal hourly wages or up to $847 per week. The emergency response program, on the other hand, offers $500 per week to unemployed Canadians.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said the federal government would be easing requirements for businesses to qualify for wage subsidies.
According to Trudeau, businesses would need to show a 15 per cent decline in revenue for March as opposed to the previous 30 per cent to qualify.
Sims said Thursday that WestJet will continue to serve all 38 Canadian cities within its network, although most of those cities will see less flights.
“We will not be grounding this airline unless specifically instructed to by the governments,” he said.
WestJet grounded 120 of its aircraft last month as it announced its layoffs, with Sims saying the moves had reduced the airline back to its 2003 level of operations.
Sims said 17 WestJet employees have tested positive for COVID-19, five of whom have since recovered.
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