Medicine Hat News

Air Canada axes 1,500 jobs



In the latest sign of COVID-19’s devastatin­g toll on Canada’s aviation sector, Air Canada said

Tuesday that it will temporaril­y lay off 1,500 unionized employees as it cuts more internatio­nal routes.

The layoffs, which also include an unspecifie­d number of management staff, leave Air Canada with just a fraction of its pre-pandemic workforce as the federal government announces measures such as mandatory hotel quarantine­s to further deter internatio­nal travel.

“We are further reducing our transborde­r and internatio­nal commercial schedule as a result of COVID-19,” a spokespers­on for Air Canada said. “Affected customers with bookings will be contacted with options, including alternate routings.”

The service cuts include 17 routes to the U.S. and other internatio­nal destinatio­ns, and will last until at least April 30, Air Canada said Tuesday. The earliest suspension­s will go into effect as soon as Feb. 12.

The route suspension­s in the U.S. include flights to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Denver and Fort Myers, Air Canada said. The airline is also suspending flights to Bogota from Montreal, London and Tokyo from Vancouver, and Bogota, Dublin and Sao Paulo from Toronto, among other routes.

Flights from Toronto to Tel Aviv will continue to be suspended, and flights from Toronto to Dubai and Hong Kong will have their startups postponed.

News of the layoffs on Tuesday sparked renewed criticism of the federal government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its lack of a targeted bailout package for airlines despite increasing­ly restrictiv­e travel measures that have sapped consumer demand.

“We appreciate the need for measures to prevent the spread of new variants of COVID-19 in Canada,” said Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada Component of CUPE, which represents flight attendants at Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge. “But restrictio­ns have to be accompanie­d by solutions.”

“Instead of working with us, the government is working against us, and one year into this pandemic, Canada remains the only country in the G7 without a plan to help the airline sector weather the pandemic, and defend tens of thousands of good jobs,” Lesosky added.

A spokeswoma­n for Transport Canada, Allison St-Jean, said the government is there to support workers affected by the pandemic and that its decisions are based on science and the recommenda­tions of Public Health Canada. “We will never hesitate to take any actions necessary to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” St-Jean said.

For months, the government has been in negotiatio­ns with airlines over the terms of a bailout package. However, Ottawa has said any aid is contingent on airlines refunding passengers for cancelled flights during the pandemic.

Air Canada’s announceme­nt will bring the total number of airline workers who have been laid off since the start of 2021 to around 5,000. This round of layoffs at Air Canada follows cuts of around

1,700 workers in January.

In addition to Air Canada, WestJet Airlines Ltd. has temporaril­y laid off more than 1,000 workers since the new year, and Transat AT Inc., which has completely paused operations until April 30 and furloughed about 450 employees.

The latest travel restrictio­ns announced by the federal government include mandatory hotel stays for people entering Canada by air, which will cost travellers more than $2,000, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in January. Canadian airlines have also agreed, at the request of the federal government, to suspend all flights to Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30.

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