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Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, June 17, 2008. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, June 17, 2008. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Union urges Air Canada pilots to abandon plans for illegal job action Add to ...

The chairman of Air Canada Pilots Association is urging members to report for work on Friday and ignore “a small group” of pilots who want colleagues to call in sick to show dissatisfaction with management.

Captain Jean-Marc Bélanger said Thursday that union leaders and airline managers strongly disagree with the tactics of the group.

Capt. Bélanger said he had been informed by Captain Eddy Doyle, director of flying operations at Air Canada , that some pilots planned to stage an illegal job action by “booking off sick when in fact they are fit to fly.”

Last month, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt referred two disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, a manoeuvre that blocked 8,600 ground crew from going on strike on March 12 as planned, as well as thwarting management’s notice to lock out 3,000 pilots on the same day. As a precautionary measure, Parliament passed back-to-work legislation in mid-March, but members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers staged a 14-hour wildcat strike that disrupted one-third of Air Canada’s flight schedule on March 23.

“It is our duty to advise all pilots that ACPA’s right to strike and Air Canada’s right to lock out its employees are suspended until a new collective agreement takes effect under the arbitration procedures of the Protecting Air Service Act,” Capt. Bélanger said in a newsletter to pilots. “The Act also requires the association and its officers to take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees comply with the provisions of the Act and refrain from any conduct that may encourage employees not to comply with the Act.”

Employees who defy the law each face fines of up to $1,000 a day, while union officials each face fines of up to $50,000 a day.

But the group of dissenting pilots, who signed their memo with “We are Air Canada,” said they’re unhappy about how management has been treating Capt. Bélanger and Captain Paul Strachan, ACPA’s president. Management has reprimanded Capt. Strachan for making allegedly “reckless” remarks about plane safety during a TV interview last month, when he noted the shutdown of Aveos Fleet Performance Inc., which had done aircraft maintenance for Air Canada.

“The government has essentially handed the corporation an insurance policy against industrial action,” said the dissenting pilots’ memo, obtained by The Globe and Mail. “The corporation has used that perceived insurance in earnest, trampling on our profession and our very being with impunity. What the corporation will need to be made aware of is that it has no such insurance policy.”

The disruptions due to the wildcat strike by hundreds of members of the machinists union became far more widespread than the delays and cancellations that hit Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on the March 17-18 weekend, when a combination of fog, a temporarily closed runway and some Air Canada pilots calling in sick ruined some flight schedules.

“Without us there is no Air Canada, there are no departures and there is no revenue,” said the angry group of pilots. “The corporation must return to the table and bargain in good faith. All charges and accusations against ACPA members and its leaders be dropped and letters of reprimand removed from the record.”

But Capt. Bélanger said the pilots’ union is already taking steps to challenge the back-to-work legislation. “We have filed a motion in the courts to have it struck down as it contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, until the law is struck down, we must all comply with it,” he said.

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