More Air Canada flights were cancelled today as some pilots apparently called in sick. This is just another brick in the dismissal wall of labour relations that is Air Canada. I’ve already walked through some of the issues that arise in the case of pilots calling in sick here (is calling ‘sick’ a strike?) and here (can it be illegal to call in fatigued when law prohibits flying when fatigued?).
I also discussed and posted the pleadings in a Charter challenge filed by the Air Canada pilots against the Feds’ ‘stay-at-work’ legislation.
Yesterday, the Air Canada pilots union released this document showing a break down of Air Canada operating costs, and comparisons of Air Canada pilot salaries and raises compared to: (1) pilots at other Canadian airlines and (2) Air Canada executives. The claim is that Air Canada’s economic problems are not a result of pilot salaries. The pilots are angry at the employer, who it feels disrespects them, and at the government, for repeatedly intervening on the side of the employer.
Whether you agree with the pilots’ tactics or not, it seems clear that the government’s interventions are not stopping labour unrest or work stoppages at Air Canada. This isn’t surprising if you know anything about labour history. Workers will resist when they feel an unfair system is being thrust upon them, especially workers that have some power. Like pilots. The unfair system is the Tory government’s Stay-at-Work legislation which, rather than imposing a system of neutral arbitration, imposes an arbitration system stacked in favour of the employer. That is the greatest mystery in this story to me.
If the government were truly concerned that a work stoppage at Air Canada would wreak havoc on the economy, why would it not just refer the matter to arms-length arbitration, allow the parties to select an agreeable arbitrator, and then let the arbitrator listen to the arguments and make a decision? What would be so terrible about that? The pilots might still have been angry about losing the right to strike, but at least they might have perceived the alternative mechanism as neutral and fair. That alone might have prevented the current disputes.
Yet that is not what Minister Raitt and PM Harper did. They insisted on giving the Minister the right to select the arbitrator rather than leaving it to the parties to agree on someone, on limiting the arbitrator’s discretion to selecting either the unions or the employers’ proposal, and then directing the arbitrator to give special emphasis in making that selection to the employer’s competitive concerns rather than the pilots various concerns. As I’ve said before, either the state is trying to side with the employer, or it isn’t, in which case it should not be involved in trying to influence the arbitrator’s discretion in a private business dispute.
I’ve also wondered aloud why Air Canada doesn’t propose or agree with the pilots’ union to bypass the government’s unnecessarily provocative arbitration model and design their own neutral model chaired by a leading and respected arbitrator. That would seem to be one sensible way forward to ease tensions and get on with rebuilding a healthy relationship. But I’m not in the bargaining room, so I can’t say what is being discussed. Maybe the Pilots don’t want arbitration in any form. Or perhaps Air Canada prefers the government’s model, for obvious reasons. If that is the case, it shows how government intervention in labour disputes can actually worsen relations. Since the government’s skewed model is the default model, there is less incentive for the employer to move back to a fairer and more neutral position. This leaves the workers with no other mechanism to resist the government’s model but to engage in actions that are disruptive to the employer.
What do you think? Do you think that the Federal government’s form of intervention in the Air Canada dispute has benefited or harmed Air Canada?
Do you think the government’s intervention is fair to the pilots?
What do you think of the pilots’ efforts to resist the model?