BUSINESS

Union says 299 Garda World screeners at Toronto's Pearson airport to be laid off

01/12/2012 12:52 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Big layoffs involving security screeners are coming at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, but whether that will mean travel delays and compromises in security is a matter of dispute between their union and those employing them.

Even the number of airport screeners losing their jobs at Canada's busiest airport was in dispute.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority said its has been informed by its contractor, Montreal-based Garda World Security, that 68 screeners at Pearson would be laid off and some 200 others would have their hours reduced.

But their union, the Canadian Airport Workers Union, insists it has received layoff notices from Garda for 299 workers — one-fifth of the unionized screeners at the airport — although an unofficial spokesman who cannot be named said the company indicated some of them might be hired back.

Garda (TSX:GW) itself put the figure at 68 workers being temporarily laid off while the employment of a further 231 employees would be reduced to 20 hours a week.

In any case, the union said the cuts will have negative implications for the travelling public.

"The current complement of screening officers is barely adequate to manage the current traffic flow," said Denis Ellickson, a Toronto lawyer and official spokesman for the Canadian Airport Workers' union.

That view was echoed by the United Steelworkwers, which represents some 1,200 screeners at other airports across the country and is worried more layoffs are coming.

"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."

However, a CATSA spokesman insisted that was not the case.

"We do not anticipate any disruptions," Mathieu Larocque said in an interview.

"On the contrary, this plan is designed to improve the service delivery, improve customer service, improve efficiency. And as far a security goes, there is absolutely no compromise about security."

Larocque said that what Garda is doing is making adjustments to its workforce to "reflect the new business model that they have proposed as part of the last round of request for proposals that ended on Nov. 1."

"They proposed a plan to improve the service delivery at the airport, to increase efficiency, the productivity — improve the customer service of all the aspects of the screening services that we offer at the airport. This is the plan that they are implementing right now."

The Steelworkers say the Crown agency cut staff and screening hours by 15 to 20 per cent last May.

"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."

Passenger fees for security screening range from $7.48 for a one-way domestic flight to up to $25.91 for an international flight.

The union said 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 office of Steven Fletcher, minister of state for transport, issued a brief statement, but referred questions to CATSA, 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 emailed statement said.

The Garda cuts are part of a recent wave of layoffs in the Toronto area — including hundreds of jobs at the Toronto Hydro utility and at a Bell Mobility call centre in Mississauga.

In Quebec, French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis has cut 100 jobs in the Montreal area, while Johnson & Johnson shut down its research centre and laid off 126 workers