WestJet Looks For Exemption From New Canadian Labor Laws

As reported by the Calgary Herald, WestJet is seeking exemptions for a forthcoming labor code change from the Canadian government. Here, we dive into the legal changes which are set to be applied as of September 1st, examine WestJet’s position, and examine stakeholder perspectives.

Westjet
Westjet has asked the government for exceptions for the forthcoming labor law. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr

The law

Through a myriad number of legislative proposals, the Federal government has recently passed several labor code amendments.

The collective legislative proposals (Bills C-86, C-63, and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 2), will apply to the labor standards in Part III of the Canada Labor Code.

 

G7 Trudeau Trump
The labor-code reforms were proposed by the Liberal Government headed by Justin Trudeau. Pictured here (left) with his American counterpart President Donald Trump at last week’s G7 meeting in France. Photo: Shealah Craighead / Wikimedia Commons

Under the forthcoming rules, the following will now be allowed, subject to certain conditions:

  • Employers will have to give 24 hours advance notice of shift changes to employees.
  • Employees with at least six months of continuous service will have the right to request changes in their working conditions. i.e. schedule, locations, among other matters.
  • Employees will be entitled to an unpaid break of at least 30 minutes during every five-hours of work.
Andrew Sheer
The new laws will be implemented ahead of Canada’s upcoming Feral elections which are set to take place before October 21st. Polls indicate that the contest will a close contest between incumbent PM Trudeau of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, headed by Andrew Sheer (pictured above). Photo: Andrew Sheer / Wikimedia Commons
  • Employees will have the right to refuse overtime in order to carry out family responsibilities
  • Employers will have to provide a minimum of 96 hours’ minimum notice prior to implementing a schedule. If an employer does not provide 96 hours of notice, employees can refuse any shift within 96 hours of receiving the schedule notice.

The reforms will apply to federally regulated industries such as banking, telecommunications, and air transport.

WestJet responds

According to the Calgary Herald, the company sent a letter to the federal government on the 14th of August asking for exceptions to the above labor code reforms.

The letter, which was addressed to a director at Employment and Social Development Canada, argued that the proposed changes would be impractical for employees and cabin crew.

WestJet 767
WestJet was once a North American only player, but now offered direct flights throughout the Americans and to Europe Photo: BriYYZ / Wikimedia Commons

Specifically, WestJet stated that the forthcoming break-time regulations would be “impracticable and unworkable” for aircrew. They added that unavoidable characteristics of the airline business, such as weather-related delays, may require short-notice schedule shifts and overtime.

“The current exemption request is part of the consultation process. WestJet will continue to work with the federal government to ensure labour standards that balance important employee protections with the complexities of commercial airline operations.” – WestJet spokesperson

In truth, WestJet is not alone with its concerns over the new labor laws. The National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents airlines such as Air Canada, Air Transat, WestJet and others, also raised its concerns about the reforms.

Air Transat A321neo
WestJet’s concerns have been echoed by the National Airlines Council of Canada, which itself represents other Canadian airlines such as Air Transat. Photo: Quintin Soloviev / Wikimedia Commons

The lobby group further called on the government to delay the entry into force of the labor code changes until the aviation industry’s concerns are considered.

Stakeholders have mixed feelings

Labor unions, for one, seemingly have mixed feelings on the issue. On one hand, many unions have agreed that the forthcoming labor laws may not be the most applicable to the aviation industry.

Swoop 737
One of WestJet’s cabin crew unions, CUPE 4070, also represents employees at Swoop, a WestJet subsidiary.  Photo: Harpreet Sandhu / Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, however, some members of organized labor have raised concerns over ‘blanket exemptions’, such as those supposedly proposed by WestJet.

Indeed, in a press release, Union CUPE 4070, representing WestJet cabin crew, stated that “the amendments enhance workers’ rights in a meaningful and positive way”.

Additionally, in response to WestJet’s request for exemptions under the new law, the union stated that “representatives from CUPE National will be making a submission to the Government as to why many of the exemptions requested are not appropriate.”

WestJet on tarmac
The new labor regulations would apply to both ground and aircrews working in Canada. Photo: Shawn / Wikimedia Commons

So, what do you think of WestJet’s request for labor-code exceptions? Are the forthcoming laws different from those applied in your country of residence? How do you think the new regulations will impact the Canadian air transport industry? Do you think industrial action could come out from this issue? Let us know in the comments.

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