With the simultaneous decisions from the Competition Bureau and Transport Canada’s public interest review approving WestJet’s acquisition of Sunwing, Unifor remains steadfast that the acquisition must result in increased job quality for workers at Sunwing and WestJet.
“The conditions placed on this sale do not address our very serious concerns or the worries of our members. There is just no meat on the bones here. There aren’t any specifics on how the company will execute these conditions or how government will enforce the conditions to ensure they are met,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne.
“In order to guarantee consistent high-quality service for customers, WestJet and Sunwing must ensure the existing collective agreements are respected, end their practice of contract flipping to reduce labour costs and start paying a living wage. Without these actions, the acquisition will not solve the underlying problems of the industry.”
WestJet and Sunwing announced the deal, subject to regulatory approval, on March 2, 2022, with the promise of lower prices for consumers and crew optimization for workers.
Unifor filed a public interest submission to Transport Canada in July 2022, outlining its concerns, recommending the Canadian government ought to block the acquisition unless WestJet can guarantee job creation, investment in workers across the company to improve job quality and customer experience, and respect and accept existing collective agreements.
The union is calling on government to create a tri-partite committee including labour, government and the company to oversee the implementation of these conditions, ensuring accountability and follow-through.
“Given the chaos at Sunwing during the holiday travel season, this approval was almost inevitable. It’s unfortunate to see government hasn’t used the opportunity presented to flex its muscle and require conditions that will improve industry dynamics,” added Payne.
The aviation sector is struggling to attract and keep workers right now. Low wages, unpredictable hours, on-the-job harassment and contract flipping are all challenges workers in the industry are facing.
WestJet will have more work to do to improve job quality and attract more desperately needed workers to the industry.
“We’ve seen what happens when there’s no long-term plan to attract and retain workers in the industry,” said Leslie Dias, Unifor’s Director of Airlines. “We need the government to leverage the power it has, including through these conditions, to increase job quality and set the industry on a more resilient and sustainable course.”
Unifor represents 16,000 members across Canada in the aviation sector, including nearly 2,000 directly affected by the potential acquisition of Sunwing by WestJet, including 450 Sunwing pilots, 1,000 WestJet customer service representatives in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto.
It also has 550 members who work for Swissport, a contract company doing work for Sunwing in Vancouver and Toronto and 41 members at ATS, who perform work contracted by WestJet.
Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad and strives to create progressive change for a better future.