A surge in summer time journey throughout the nation has pressured Canada’s two greatest airways to ask employees to assist volunteer at airports to beat staffing challenges — a transfer that’s creating pushback from unions.
In an electronic mail to all workers, WestJet described how the speedy development in passenger numbers is inflicting operational issues at a number of airports, together with its flagship airport in Calgary.
The “rising pains of restoration requires all-hands-on-deck,” learn the message, which included an open name for any employees members to enroll to volunteer to assist company requiring wheelchair help on the Calgary Worldwide Airport.
In the meantime, Air Canada has wanted further personnel at Toronto’s Pearson airport since “airport companions are stretched past their capability, which led to important flight cancellations and missed connections,” learn an inner memo.
In late August and early September, air passenger site visitors reached its highest level for the reason that pandemic started. The rise in enterprise is vital to the aviation business, which was devastated early on within the disaster as many international locations restricted worldwide journey.
The business will not be proof against the staffing challenges confronted by many sectors as lockdowns began to elevate; airways proceed to cope with altering authorities restrictions, whereas additionally following a wide range of COVID-19 protocols at home and worldwide airports.
At Toronto’s Pearson, the worldwide arrival course of can take as much as three hours, as passengers are screened by Canada Border Companies Company and Public Well being Company of Canada brokers, accumulate baggage and presumably take a COVID-19 check.
“Because the know-how for sharing and displaying vaccine paperwork improves, passengers develop into extra comfy with the brand new course of and vaccine-driven adjustments in border protections take impact, we hope to see additional enchancment in wait-time situations within the terminals,” a Pearson spokesperson mentioned in an electronic mail assertion, which highlighted different steps to cut back delays.
However a number of unions have suggested their members to keep away from volunteering for a wide range of causes.
CUPE, which represents flight attendants at WestJet, declined to remark. Nonetheless, in a letter, it informed members that “the corporate is imploring you to supply free, volunteer and zero-cost labour. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.”
The Air Line Pilots Affiliation, which represents WestJet’s pilots, additionally declined to remark. However in a message to members, it highlighted how “in case you are injured doing this work, you will not be coated by our incapacity insurer.”
Unifor, which represents customer support brokers at each of Canada’s main airways, mentioned its members have been upset concerning the name for volunteers and the union wasn’t joyful that there wasn’t any superior warning or conservation.
“Take a team of workers that’s already very pressured by the sort of operation that is occurring, the amount of passengers, the quantity of additional processes which can be in place due to COVID in an effort to journey — after which including these items on will not be useful,” mentioned Leslie Dias, Unifor’s director of airways.
In the course of the pandemic, WestJet determined to outsource the work of guest-service brokers, who would assist passengers that require wheelchairs, help with check-in kiosks and co-ordinate lineups.
However the contractor is struggling to supply sufficient employees, mentioned Dias, and that is why there was a name for volunteers.
After flying greater than 700 flights day by day in 2019, WestJet flew as few as 30 some days through the pandemic. Presently, there are greater than 400 flights every day.
“WestJet, as is the case throughout Canada and throughout many industries, faces continued points because of labour hiring challenges because of COVID-19,” mentioned spokesperson Morgan Bell in an emailed assertion.
“As WestJet seems forward to restoration, we proceed to work towards actively recalling and hiring company-wide, with the present expectation we are going to attain 9,000 absolutely educated WestJetters by the tip of the 12 months, which is greater than twice as many WestJetters as we had at our lowest level within the pandemic some 5 months in the past,” she mentioned.
Air Canada mentioned it solely requested salaried administration to assist volunteer at Pearson airport.
Unifor mentioned the airline was in need of employees as a result of the corporate did not have sufficient coaching capability to accommodate recalled workers and could not organize restricted-area passes on time.
1000’s of airline employees misplaced their jobs, have been furloughed or confronted wage reductions final 12 months, though the carriers are bringing again employees as journey exercise will increase.
At WestJet, its customer support brokers have been recalled, based on Unifor. Many workers in different positions, although, stay out of labor, together with about 500 furloughed pilots.
Air Canada mentioned it has been regularly recalling workers since final spring, together with greater than 5,000 in July and August.
Asking for volunteers is an “uncommon” prevalence within the business, mentioned Rick Erickson, an impartial airline analyst primarily based in Calgary. However he mentioned it isn’t stunning since slicing a workforce is far simpler than constructing it again up.
Airways need to retrain employees, safe legitimate certification and safety passes, and discover new hires as properly.
Erickson mentioned he even noticed WestJet CEO Ed Sims serving to on the check-in counter in Calgary in latest weeks, as passenger exercise was at its peak up to now this 12 months.
“This has been probably the most difficult time, truthfully, in civil aviation historical past; we have by no means, ever seen something approaching 90 per cent of your revenues drying up,” mentioned Erickson, noting that airways nonetheless have to observe their funds intently.
Asking workers to volunteer is not unlawful, however it does elevate some questions, mentioned Sarah Coderre, a labour lawyer with Bow River Legislation LLP in Calgary.
“Whether or not or not it is truthful, and the form of place it places the workers in, in the event that they select to not volunteer, that might be regarding for me from a authorized standpoint,” mentioned Coderre.
Air Canada is at present working at about 35 to 40 per cent of its 2019 flying capability, however mentioned one vivid spot on the horizon is bookings for winter getaways towards the tip of this 12 months and the start of 2022.
“When seeking to the solar leisure markets, we’re very optimistic about our restoration,” a spokesperson mentioned by electronic mail. “We’re at present observing demand development that’s above 2019 ranges.”