The federal government introduced back-to-work legislation today to ensure there is no work stoppage at Air Canada.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told reporters in Ottawa on Monday that a work stoppage could harm what she calls Canada's "fragile economic recovery."
"We will take swift actions to ensure that Canada's economic recovery is not negatively affected and that Canadians across the country who rely on air services are not unduly impacted," Raitt said.
"We are anticipating the process … could take up to two days."
The legislation would take effect in the event of a strike by machinists and ground crews, or the lockout of the pilots.
Last week, Air Canada moved to lock out its pilots at the same time machinists were preparing to go on strike. However, both moves were made redundant in the short term by the file being sent to the Canada Industrial Relations Board as no work stoppage is possible while the board investigates.
Raitt said Monday that the board is currently in the process of talking with all sides. She didn't offer an estimate of how long that process might take.
NDP labour critic Yvon Godin said the legislation sends a very clear signal that the current government favours corporate interests. "They're sending a strong message to business, 'you don't have to negotiate, just come see us and we will be there for you,'" he said.
"[They] can do that with every single collective agreement," he said in French. " [They'll argue] 'the economy is fragile, so we don't want there to be a strike or a lockout. We force people back to work,'" he said.
In Montreal, the company's employees staged a noisy rally today to denounce the federal government.
Gathered outside Montreal's Trudeau airport, a few dozen workers chanted, "Lisa Raitt, you're not right," and blew whistles and plastic horns to protest the government's decision to prevent them from going on strike.
To ensure things continue working smoothly at the airport, there is increased security; the employees are being confined to a small area just outside the departures area marked by orange traffic cones.
The workers are upset that the Harper Tories have intervened several times in labour disputes, therefore weakening the position of employees as they negotiate new contracts.
Marcel St-Jean, a union spokesman, said workers are frustrated, but they have no plan to disrupt operations and upset air travellers.
"There is no way we can get into a fair deal for the employees if we don't have anything to negotiate," he told CBC News. "If we don't have a fair deal, the employees will reject the tentative agreement."
Although he hopes the legislation won't come to pass, he said the workers will respect any legislation brought into action. "For sure we cannot go against the law," he said. "We're not outlaws."
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