Sunday,  August 14, 2022  2:47 pm

Unifor tells Ottawa to block WestJet-Sunwing deal unless jobs are guaranteed

  • Air
  •   07-25-2022  10:02 am
  •   Pax Global Media
Unifor tells Ottawa to block WestJet-Sunwing deal unless jobs are guaranteed
(File photos)
Pax Global Media

Just when you thought that Unifor and WestJet were starting to resolve their issues, the union that represents 16,000 members in Canada’s aviation sector has advised the Canadian government to block WestJet’s acquisition of Sunwing unless the deal can guarantee and improve jobs.

Transport Canada and the Competition Bureau must consider that WestJet’s acquisition of Sunwing may have a “deep and negative effect on Canadian jobs,” said Unifor, after filing a public interest submission to Transport Canada on Friday, July 22, 2022.

“Unifor is concerned that, despite the promises made to create jobs, this acquisition will actually lead to more sub-contracted work with lower wages and precarious conditions,” said Scott Doherty, executive assistant to Unifor’s National President, on Monday (July 25). “Not only that, the number of jobs may also decline.”

On March 2, 2022, Sunwing and WestJet announced that WestJet would purchase Sunwing, pending regulatory approvals.

Under the agreement, which is expected to close by the end of this year, WestJet will launch a new tour operator unit led by Sunwing CEO Stephen Hunter that includes Sunwing Vacations and WestJet Vacations as separate brands.

When the transaction was announced, Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet's CEO, said: “A stronger WestJet and Sunwing will bring much-needed stability to the Canadian airline industry, drive growth and job creation at a critical time of recovery.”

And, notably, Unifor, which represents roughly 700 WestJet airport customer service and baggage agents in Calgary and Vancouver airports, as well as 452 Sunwing pilots, initially welcomed the news.

But the tone, now, seems to have changed. 

In its filing, Unifor recommended the Canadian government should block the acquisition unless WestJet can guarantee job creation, invest in workers across the company to improve job quality and customer experience, and respect and accept existing collective agreements.

Earlier this month, Sunwing pilots filed a complaint at the Canada Industrial Relations Board, alleging their employer bargained in bad faith during a recent round of negotiations because the company already knew it was being sold to WestJet.

Sunwing has denied this claim, calling the accusation “not true,” as well as “without merit, out of time” and one that will be “vigorously defended.”

Days after the filing, Sunwing reportedly issued a letter to its Unifor pilot members, indicating the company would no longer be continuing the pilots’ $200,000 Loss of License insurance policy, which supports a pilot who loses their license to fly due to medical reasons, Unifor noted on its website.

“We know how working in aviation currently feels like a pressure cooker environment from our members,” stated Leslie Dias, Unifor’s director of airlines. “We’ve heard stories of verbal abuse and burnout from our WestJet workers. This merger between Sunwing and WestJet needs to make the industry better, not worse.”

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, 800 WestJet customer service representatives in Calgary and Vancouver and more being added in Toronto soon, the union says.

Unifor says Competition Bureau investigations and Transport Canada reviews don't always factor in to how company mergers impact jobs, but the union filing notes it's in the public interest and possible under the Competition Act to secure good job opportunities.

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