This week, 2,600 aerospace workers across Canada were laid off without notice. On Sunday, March 18, 2012, Aveos posted notices at its work sites in Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver, telling workers not to return. Many of the workers were recent Air Canada employees.
Until 2007, Aveos was Air Canada Technical Services, the in-house maintenance unit of Air Canada. Over the next five years, mechanics and other workers had to transfer from Air Canada to Aveos or lose their jobs. According to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, this week’s layoffs are a direct violation of the Air Canada Public Participation Act, under which Aveos was to be exclusive provider of heavy maintenance services. The union has been warning that Air Canada would transfer its maintenance work to lower-wage countries when its contract with Aveos expires. Unfortunately for workers, the layoffs came even sooner than expected.
Air Canada and Aveos are blaming each other for the layoffs. Aveos says that Air Canada has not provided enough work and has been requesting lower-cost bids from other companies that perform maintenance work. Air Canada says that Aveos has refused its offer for $15 million in stabilization financing. Air Canada has been quick to dissociate from its former maintenance division, saying that Aveos is a separate entity and that its workforce is independent and covered by a separate collective agreement. However, Air Canada is a part owner of Aveos and almost all of Aveo’s revenue comes from Air Canada contracts. Although technically true, it’s disingenuous for Air Canada to call the laid-off workers Aveos employees. Many were employed by Air Canada just months, or even weeks, ago.
The federal government has been silent on the jobs losses and the economic impact. The Conservatives also seem unconcerned about possible flight cancellations due to delays in the maintenance work previously done by Aveos, even though this government has had no problem interfering in private labour negotiations to prevent flight disruptions, most recently during the busy spring break season.
In mid-March, the Conservative government passed legislation to send Air Canada’s labour disputes to binding arbitration, sabotaging the collective bargaining process. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said that Canada’s economic recovery is dependent on air travel and therefore on Air Canada, because of its significant share of the domestic market. She said that the economy should be considered an essential service, as an excuse for interfering with labour negotiations between Air Canada and its unions. Under Canadian labour laws, essential services are those necessary to life, health and safety, not to economic activity.
Spring break flights are not generally essential for either Canadians or the Canadian economy, not least because many Canadians travelling at this time of year are leaving the country. But, economic impact isn’t the real point. The economy is a red herring to help Air Canada in its negotiations and prevent the unions from bargaining in good faith. This also happened in 2011, when the federal government interfered in Air Canada’s negotiations with flight attendants by threatening back-to work legislation.
The bad faith of the Conservative government’s declaration of air travel as an essential service is epitomized by the government’s lack of intervention thus far in the case of Aveos. It seems the only thing Riatt views as essential are corporate profits.