The union representing security workers at Toronto's Pearson International Airport says as many as 299 screeners will be laid off this month – a claim the security company that employs them disputes.
A spokesman for Garda World Security Corp. said the company has told the union that 68 employees would be temporarily laid off, while the hours of a further 231 employees would be reduced – affecting 299 people in all.
The union says it wants the layoffs – scheduled to be effective Jan. 25 – delayed and called on the federal transport minister to get involved, saying it's a matter of public safety.
The screeners have been at odds for months with the company, which is contracted by the Canadian Air Transport Security agency to check passengers and baggage before they board flights from the country's largest airport.
The office of Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Transport, issued a brief statement but referred questions to the agency, which is responsible for airport screening.
"Our government is committed to the safety of the travelling public while protecting taxpayer's dollars," the Minister's e-mailed statement said.
"We have invested $1.5-billion over five years to improve aviation security. These adjustments will ensure CATSA makes the best possible use of taxpayer's dollars. There will be no impact on wait times for passengers, [and]security will not be compromised."
Garda World spokesman Joe Gavaghan said the company wouldn't have any comment beyond a brief statement, which differed from the union's on several key facts – particularly the number of actual layoffs.
"On Wednesday, January 11, 2012, we informed our union that we are reducing weekly hours, temporarily laying off 68 employees and reducing the number of hours of 231 employees to 20 hours per week. Garda will continue to deploy its efficiency model to minimize the impact on passengers."
A union that represents security screeners at Canadian airports warned that job cuts at Pearson could seriously inconvenience travellers or risk public safety.
The United Steelworkers union said another round of cuts at the country's busiest airport will mean travelling delays and seriously compromise national security and passenger safety. "Airport security screening suffered cutbacks and major disruptions from last year's reorganization," said Wayne Fraser, the steelworkers' Ontario and Atlantic director.
"Now the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is making more major cuts. This can't go on without adding to airport lineups and affecting passenger safety."
The Steelworkers, who represent pre-board security screeners at many airports, said the Crown agency cut staff and screening hours by 15 to 20 per cent last May. Now it is cutting the jobs or reducing hours for just under 300 security screeners at Pearson by the end of the month.
"Additional cuts are not the way to improve passenger safety, national security or wait times," said Ken Neumann, the union's national director for Canada. "The public is expecting, and paying for, improvements, not reductions. They want safer air travel and more-timely processing."