MONTREAL - The Canadian Transportation Agency's decision to allow Sunwing to integrate four Czech planes into its fleet this winter has raised the ire of rivals Transat (TSX:TRZ.B), Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) and WestJet (TSX:WJ).
Sunwing asked the agency last month to approve the use of four Boeing 737 Travel Service planes and their pilots. The request came 13 days before the planned first flight.
Transat, Air Canada, WestJet and the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Air Transat pilots, are opposed to the request, saying that resorting to foreign planes should be an exception but have become an important feature of Sunwing's business model.
The union says more than half of Sunwing's pilots and two-thirds of its planes will be supplied from abroad this winter. In addition to Travel Service, Sunwing is renting several aircraft from three subsidiaries of German travel giant TUI.
In its decision released Wednesday, the agency said that it typically approves such requests as long as all the required information is provided.
But given the strong reaction from Sunwing's competitors, the agency has now decided to consult the industry to assess the opportunity to develop a clear policy on aircraft rental agreements with crews.
The pilots association welcomed the consultation. But Transat has asked the federal government to directly intervene, noting the negative tax consequences for governments caused by foreign pilots.
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Air Canada's Labour Problems
June 2011: Ground Workers Strike
About 3,800 customer sales and service representatives represented by the Canadian Auto Workers union held a three-day strike in June. They reached a deal with company just hours after the federal government introduced a bill seeking to legislate them back to work. At issue was employee pensions. The airline proposed new hires would receive defined contribution pension plans instead of the defined benefit plans current employees have. Ground workers ratified a new contract that leaves pensions alone, but negotiations continue over their future shape. -- <em>The Canadian Press</em>
Sept./Oct. 2011: Flight Attendants
Air Canada's 6,800 flight attendants voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike action in September, rejecting a contract the Canadian Union of Public Employees had negotiated with the airline. At issue, once again, was pensions -- Air Canada had proposed that new hires would receive defined contribution pensions plans instead of the defined benefits plans flight attendants currently receive. CUPE and the airline negotiated a second deal in October, and flight attendants rejected it again -- this time by a more narrow 65 per cent. The federal government intervened again, sending the dispute to an arbitrator, who imposed the second agreement hammered out between the union and the airline. -- <em>Canadian Press files</em>
March 2012: Pilots, Mechanics Lockout Averted
Air Canada's pilots and ground technicians were set to walk off the job just in time for March break when Air Canada threatened to do it for them and lock them out. For the third time in less than a year, the federal government intervened, passing back-to-work legislation and sending the matter to the industrial relations board. Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the government's repeated use of back-to-work laws to prevent Air Canada strikes and lockouts, saying the airline is crucial to Canada's economy and cannot be allowed to stop operating, especially during a high travel season. -- <em>Canadian Press files</em>
March 2012: Protests Against Aveos Layoffs
Days after a pilots' and machinists' strike was averted, Aveos, an Air Canada maintenance contractor, announced it was shutting plants in Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg laying off 2,400 employees. Some 200 employees in Montreal blocked access to the Air Canada building at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau building on Monday March 19, 2011. -- <em>Canadian Press files</em>
March 2012: Pilots Mysteriously Sick After Dispute
Days after Labour Minister Lisa Raitt used legislation to prevent a walkoff or lockout of Air Canada pilots, the airline was hit with a flurry of delays and cancellations as an unusually high number of pilots called in sick to Montreal's Trudeau airport. The airline clearly suspects the move may have been some kind of covert labour action, as it has filed a complaint about the incident with the labour relations board. -- <em>Canadian Press files</em>
March 2012: Wildcat Strike
A ground crew wildcat strike disrupted Air Canada's operations at Pearson Airport on Friday, March 23, 2012, after the airline reportedly fired three workers who had followed Labour Minister Lisa Raitt through the airport, heckling her. When ground workers walked off the job in protest, the airline reportedly fired 37 of them, causing further job walkoffs. The labour relations board eventually put a stop to the protests and reinstated the 37 fired workers, but not before the strikes had spread, briefly, to airports in Montreal and Vancouver.
April 2012: 'Sick-Out' Strikes Pearson
A month after pilots in Toronto and Montreal called in sick en masse, prompting flight cancellations, the same thing appeared to happen again, as a "sick-out" by pilots hit Toronto's Pearson Airport. At least 60 flights were cancelled the morning the apparent job action hit. The Air Canada Pilots Association distanced itself from the action, saying it wasn't sanctioned by them. Air Canada described the sick-out as "illegal." Photo: Chris Bouchard, whose flight to Calgary was cancelled upon his arrival, checks flight times at Toronto Pearson Airport on Friday, April 13, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu)
July 2012: Arbitrator Sides With Airline
Air Canada pilots lost their monumental labour battle with the airline when an arbitrator, appointed by the government after back-to-work legislation, sided with the airline. The decision sent Air Canada stock higher on the expectation the decision would pave the way for a discount Air Canada airline brand, but left the company's pilots angry and disillusioned.