Union leaders call on Ottawa to provide immediate financial aid and rapid viral testing to an airline industry devastated by the COVID-19[female[feminine pandemic.
Leaders of two pilot unions and Unifor on Thursday called on the federal government to offer carriers loans totaling $ 7 billion at an interest rate of 1%.
The requested 10-year credit plan includes loan guarantees and direct financial assistance, but no grants and aligns with support from other countries, they said.
Unions have also called on Ottawa to support the approval and rollout of rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers as a step towards easing travel restrictions and quarantine rules.
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“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a crisis in Canada’s aviation industry like never before, and recovery could take years,” said Tim Perry, head of the Canadian branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, during of a press conference in Toronto.
“Make no mistake, decimating this industry today will hamper recovery for Canadians tomorrow and beyond,” said Robert Giguère, head of the Air Canada Pilots Association.
The task forces have differed on the best approach for a bailout.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which was not part of the media event Thursday, said any government support should include “important exclusions to support workers, rather than just protecting the bottom line of companies.”
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CUPE, which represents 15,000 flight attendants, also said government stake in companies should be a condition of any federal aid, with parallels to Germany’s $ 14 billion Lufthansa bailout which saw the government take a 20% stake in the airline.
However, Unifor president Jerry Dias said government involvement should only be considered if an airline defaults on a loan.
Governments around the world have distributed $ 123 billion to help the airline industry, Dias said. Canada, on the other hand, has avoided sector-specific support, instead deploying financial assistance such as wage subsidies available to many industries.
Ottawa has also refrained from requiring airlines to reimburse customers whose flights have been canceled due to the pandemic, which could save carriers hundreds of millions of dollars. In contrast, European and American authorities have demanded that airlines reimburse travelers, in addition to conditions attached to financial lifelines that range from limiting dividends and bonuses to executives to reducing carbon emissions and spending money. distribution of ownership shares for the government.
Travel restrictions and dry demand continue to weigh on the airline and tourism industries. Over 30,000 employees have been laid off or on leave at Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. Passengers to Canada fell 90% year over year in July, although the 845,000 travelers were nearly double the number the month before, according to Statistics Canada.
“We are in a desperate situation. Air Canada wastes about $ 15 million a day in cash… It’s completely unsustainable, ”said Dias, whose union represents 15,000 workers in the industry, including pilots, baggage handlers and sales agents.
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Dias applauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for extending Canada’s emergency wage subsidy until next summer, but noted that some carriers such as Air Canada had not signed, leaving thousands of ‘former employees with no stable income. Meanwhile, the Large Employers Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), a federal program that grants loans starting at $ 60 million to large businesses, “just isn’t working” due to “incredible restrictions.” and around 8% interest, he said.
In its Speech from the Throne last week, the Liberal government pledged to “support regional roads” but did not provide any details.
“Sadly, the Trudeau government continues to leave the thousands of Canadians who depend on the aviation industry in the dark about how or if they will have jobs to return to,” said Conservative transportation spokeswoman Stephanie Kusie, who called the LEEFF program “broken and untenable.”
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NDP labor critic Scott Duvall echoed the unions in demanding that aid go “directly to workers and not just a blank check to CEOs.” Airlines should also be required to reimburse the thousands of passengers whose flights have been canceled due to the coronavirus, he said in a statement.
The National Airlines Council of Canada has welcomed the call of the union leaders and supported their call for the government to adopt a rapid test regime as a critical step towards the recovery, which remains at the “stage. zero, ”President Mike McNaney said in a statement.
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Air Canada – one of the four members of the board – announced Thursday that it has finalized an order for rapid COVID-19 tests carried out by Abbott Laboratories based in the United States. The healthcare company’s point-of-service kits, called ID NOW tests, will be taken voluntarily by employees, Air Canada said.
The deployment follows Air Canada’s month-long pilot project in partnership with McMaster HealthLabs to voluntarily test passengers at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. Preliminary study results suggest that “a test-based strategy may be an available and safe alternative to the 14-day quarantine” required of arriving passengers, said Dr Jim Chung, chief medical officer of ‘Air Canada.
WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Vancouver International Airport are also launching a project to voluntarily test passengers for the coronavirus on certain departing flights, as part of a larger push by carriers to show they are serious about tackling the spread virally as they attempt to bring Canadians back to the skies.
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