Government aims to speed through Air Canada labour bill

Conservatives hope to pass the bill in a matter of hours
||Last Updated: 03/13/2012

(Reuters) — Canada's House of Commons will begin debating a government motion to enable speedy passage of legislation to block a strike or lockout at Air Canada, a spokesman said.

The motion to pass the Air Canada bill in a matter of hours will be introduced shortly after midday on March 12, said Fraser Malcolm, a spokesman for the Conservative government's House leader.

UPDATE: Canadian government tables Air Canada back-to-work bill

The bill itself, which would preclude a work stoppage at the country's largest airline, is expected to be introduced in the afternoon. Last week, the government temporarily avoided a lockout and a strike that had been set for March 12, by referring the matter to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper set the tone on March 9 by saying an Air Canada shutdown would hurt the national economy, which is still recovering from recession. He said the airline had asked for government assistance during the economic crisis, and he would not let the airline shut itself down now.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt asked the CIRB on March 8 to decide whether Air Canada was crucial for the health and safety of Canadians. If it is deemed an essential service, that would preclude a labour disruption.

The government's concurrent move to pass back-to-work legislation is designed to ensure service continues even if the CIRB ruled Air Canada was not an essential service.

Any labour disruptions would have hit at a busy time, when many Canadians are travelling during their schools' March break.

"It is business as usual with Air Canada's flights today," airline spokeswoman Angela Mah said.

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