Another round of layoffs at Air Canada has come with a price in New Brunswick as the airline industry awaits word of a federal aid package.
Air Canada announced 1,500 layoffs in early February, including about 100 people at its contact centre in Saint John.
The facility was home to more than 400 employees prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Less than half are still working.
Leslie Dias, the director of the airlines sector for Unifor, which represents the workers, said considerable expansion at the Saint John facility in the last three or four years made it a victim of its own success.
“It’s kind of a fact that they have done a tremendous amount of hiring within that period of time,” Dias began. “And so they ended up being, unfortunately, the first ones that were impacted by a layoff.”
Dias said less than half of the 6,000 Unifor members employed by Air Canada at the start of the pandemic are on the job.
She said the industry, as a whole, is desperate for a federal aid package. Ottawa promised financial assistance late last year but there is no deal yet on a package.
Saint John-Rothesay Liberal MP Wayne Long, whose riding includes the contact centre, rose virtually in the House of Commons Thursday to urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ministers and other members of government to get a deal done, for his region and the entire country.
“When flying is down about 97 per cent we have a major problem,” Long said following his speech to the House. “It’s not our government’s problem, it’s certainly just a problem that’s happening worldwide, but it’s incumbent on us as a government to make sure that we set the airline industry up for success post-pandemic.”
Airline industry analyst and McGill University professor Karl Moore cautions it will be at least two years before the airline industry resembles what it was pre-pandemic.
But he said once Canada emerges from the pandemic, frequent flights will follow.
He believes the Atlantic region is poised for a recovery on par with other parts of the country.
“There will be a demand there of people just eager to go see their families, go do business, go have dinner with a client and see what they’re up to rather than doing it by Zoom,” Moore said.
Dias believes “Atlantic Canada is going to see the airlines return, and return in a big way.”
A spokesperson for Air Canada told Global News in an email that the layoffs are temporary, but it’s not clear when anyone may be called back to work.