Air Canada, pilots' union accept extended mediation

Parties will negotiate for an additional six months, airline continues operations
||Last Updated: 02/15/2012

Air Canada and its pilots union have agreed to submit to an extended mediation process, meaning there will not be any disruption to service, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said on Feb. 15.

"I have received agreement from both parties... that they will submit to the extended mediation process," Raitt told Parliament. "I'm very grateful for the work that they're going to put in, and we expect them to get a deal.

The two parties have accepted Raitt’s offer of working with a new mediator for up to six more months of talks. Raitt stepped in last year to stop two other labour disputes at the country's largest airline.

The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) said on Feb. 14 that its members voted 97 per cent to give their union representatives a strike mandate. More than 97 per cent of the pilots at the nation's biggest airline took part in the vote.

"This vote demonstrates that Air Canada pilots are united in their desire to reach a freely negotiated agreement," said ACPA president Paul Strachan.

With a strike mandate in hand, the union could now file a 72-hour notice of its intention to strike, but the union insists the pilots do not want to strike.

Accepting the government's mediation offer would not preclude a strike or lockout.

The mediator appointed to join the talks is retired judge Louise Otis, ministerial spokeswoman Ashley Kelahear said. Otis most recently helped Air Canada reach a tentative contract agreement with its large mechanics union.

ACPA's chief worry in the talks is that Air Canada plans to outsource "good Canadian jobs", Strachan said.

A leaked internal memo earlier this month showed that pilots are concerned that Air Canada wants to set up a planned low-cost carrier offshore, where it would be able to tap cheaper labour than at home. The subsidiary is expected to be modeled on Qantas's low-cost offshoot, Jetstar.

The pilots' collective agreement expired March 31, 2011. They voted down a tentative agreement in May, partly because of concerns about the impact on jobs and wages of a low-cost carrier.

Air Canada has now reached new contract agreements with all its major unions except for the pilots. In a sudden burst over the weekend, it reached three tentative deals in three days.

-- with files from Reuters

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