03/12/2012 11:12 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Air Canada Strike Averted, But Protesters Angry At Government's Heavy-Handedness


MONTREAL - Air Canada employees staged a noisy but orderly protest against the federal government, accusing it of eroding workers' rights.

Outside Montreal's Trudeau airport, dozens of members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers blew whistles and plastic horns Monday to protest the government's decision to prevent them from going on strike.

A similar protest was held at Toronto's Pearson airport later in the day, the union said.

"We want to tell this government that it is anti-democratic," said Marcel St-Jean, president of the IAMAW Montreal local.

"They were elected democratically and all we want is that same democracy applied to us (and) that we have the right to negotiate a fair collective agreement for the membership."

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.

Several carried placards marked, "Lisa Raitt, you're not right," in reference to the federal labour minister.

There was increased security at the Montreal airport; the employees were confined to a small area just outside the departures area and were surrounded by orange traffic cones.

St-Jean says that while workers are frustrated, they have no plans to disrupt operations and upset air travellers.

"We're not after the people, we're after the government and Air Canada," he said. "We just want a fair collective agreement."

Martin Noel brought his two-year-old son to the Montreal rally.

"We're not just fighting for our rights, we're fighting for our families," the 42-year-old baggage handler said. "I brought my son because I want to show that I'm a father and I have to take care of this little boy of mine and I really want him to have a nice future."

Stephanie Jaffres, an Air Canada flight attendant, joined her fellow workers at the late-morning rally: "We're supporting our friends at the IAMAW because we believe that Lisa Raitt should give them the right to strike."

Jaffres complained that the government was not letting private companies negotiate freely. She noted that Air Canada flight attendants ended up with an arbitrated contact that was imposed on them.

A union official said about 100 workers held a similar demonstration Monday afternoon at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Bill Trbovich, the IAMAW's director of communications, said they were protesting the fact that Air Canada has not returned to the table.

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