Friday, April 13, 2012

Ottawa flights affected by Air Canada pilots' ‘sick out’

Air Canada flights were disrupted Friday as pilots staged a ‘sick out’ protest in the airline’s ongoing labour dispute.

Several Air Canada flights to and from Ottawa were among those cancelled Friday, a day after the airline and the union representing its pilots had tried to stop a rogue group of pilots from holding an illegal job action.

In Ottawa, the flight board listed five cancelled Air Canada departures — all to Toronto — at 9 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.

Air Canada flights arriving from Toronto were cancelled at 8 a.m., 11:10 a.m., 1:10 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. Several other flights were delayed.

It wasn’t immediately clear Friday morning whether the more than 30 Air Canada flights cancelled at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and the approximately 10 cancelled at Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport — both figures taken from the airports’ respective websites — were a result of the feared “sick out.”

This is the second such job action at the airline in the aftermath of a back-to-work bill from the federal government.

The legislation, introduced last month, removed the right of the airline to lock out its workers and Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) and the union representing mechanics and ground crews from striking.

The pilots involved in Friday's action have most recently been angered angry about the airline's threats to fire the union's president and its chairman.

The country's largest carrier said Thursday it had received several reports from pilots who had been receiving calls from other pilots — identifying themselves as "Pilot X" — encouraging them to call in sick, or not come to work.

The airline sent a request to the ACPA late Wednesday asking the union's chairman, Capt. Jean-Marc Belanger, to step in to prevent a potential illegal job action.

"Given the number of reports received, this has obviously raised some concern," said Capt. Ed Doyle, Air Canada director of flying operations, in the memo to the pilots Thursday. "A 'sick out', whether organized by the association or not, is considered to be a concerted job action, which is illegal."

Members of the union representing Air Canada's mechanics and ground crews held a wildcat strike in March. Air Canada also accused its pilots of a small-scale sick out on March 17, which has been denied by ACPA.

In one of the emails sent to the pilots this week, obtained by the Financial Post, the rogue pilots encouraged their colleagues to act in response to the threats by the airline to fire both Belanger and ACPA president Paul Strachan for remarks they made in two separate television interviews.

The airline accused them of openly questioning the safety of the airline while in uniform following the collapse of the airline's former maintenance unit, Aveos Fleet Performance Inc., last month.

The rogue group of pilots said the illegal job action was necessary because of the back-to-work bill prevents a legal strike.

"The government and the corporation have largely handcuffed our leaders. Our . . . chair Jean-Marc Belanger and our president Paul Strachan, giants in defending your rights, are having their careers threatened. You attack one of us you attack us all," reads the email, which was also posted on a private Facebook page.

"The government and the corporation have only symbolically removed our leverage. They possess a false sense of security, an illusion of labour peace."

The union responded immediately to the request by Air Canada to quell the unrest. Belanger sent a letter to the union's members Thursday reminding them that any such job action would not be sanctioned by the union, and could result in fines for the association, its officers and individual Air Canada employees.

"If the allegations are accurate, they have not been initiated or sanctioned by ACPA," Belanger said.

Under the Canadian Aviation Regulations, pilots are required to self-assess prior to any flight, and if they feel they are unfit to fly, even in the case of stress, they are required not to fly.

"ACPA has not and will not condone using the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARS), which spell out the rights and obligations governing pilots who are not fit to fly, for industrial action," Belanger said.

He encouraged the pilots to wait for the outcome of a charter challenge launched by Air Canada's unions of the back-to-work bill.

Tensions between Air Canada and its pilots have been mounting in recent weeks. Last week, Air Canada sent letters to both Belanger and Strachan warning them not to wear their uniforms in future interviews, demanded they retract their statements, and have the offending interviews removed from media outlets' websites.

Both Belanger and Strachan in letters from their lawyers Tuesday characterized the accusations as attempts to "intimidate, punish and silence ACPA's leaders."

"We are not surprised by your strong responses to the corporation's recent correspondence. We are, like you, incredibly frustrated by management's refusal to negotiate," Belanger said in the memo to members Thursday.

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