The new coronavirus travel restrictions imposed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday are “a death blow” to the aviation sector, the national president of the country’s largest private union said.
“Everybody understands that governments need to do everything they can to keep Canadians safe, but we also have to make sure that we have industries to come back to when the pandemic is over,” Jerry Dias, Unifor national president, said on Sunday’s episode of The West Block with Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson.
“We can’t talk about ‘build back better’ and not have a strong aviation sector and that’s what’s at peril right now.”
In an effort to crack down on non-essential travel, Trudeau announced that Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat would be suspending services to all Caribbean destinations and Mexico, effective Sunday.
He said international passengers looking to fly back to Canada will only have the option of four airports in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal, adding that they’ll be forced to quarantine for up to three days at a designated hotel that could cost “more than $2,000” while they await results from new mandatory COVID-19 tests.
“With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying,” Trudeau said.
“By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time, when we can all plan those vacations.”
Dias, who represents roughly 15,000 workers within the aviation sector, said airports have been blowing through cash reserves and criticized the Canadian government for doing “nothing” to help the aviation industry since the pandemic began in March.
“Workers are concerned, workers are disillusioned and they’re wondering when the government is actually going to step in,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the aviation industry, with demand for flights down between 85 and 90 per cent since spring.
In order to help, Dias said the Canadian government could waive fuel taxes for a year, advised waiving the Canadian carriers’ landing and gate fees and suggested a $7-billion loan at a rate of 1 per cent over 10 years.
“That will go a long way to stabilize things, and will send the message too to the tens of thousands of workers in this industry that the government understands the strategic importance of the work that they do,” he said.
Dias urged the federal to act quickly.
“Rome is burning and there’s a lot of diddling going on,” he said.
“We need some solutions. We need some answers. We need some commitments. And it’s the only way we’re going to move forward.”