February 28, 2003
The Honourable Jane Stewart, Minister
Human Resources Development Canada
14th Floor, Phase IV
140 Promenade du Portage
Re: EI Eligibility for Flight Attendants
I am writing to you on an urgent issue facing 13,000 flight attendants across Canada.
I understand that your department is preparing to introduce a new policy interpretation affecting EI eligibility for flight attendants. If implemented, this policy will affect flight attendant entitlement to Employment Insurance maternity, parental, sickness and layoff benefits at a time of incredible uncertainty in the airline industry.
This adverse interpretation will directly affect the 10,000 members of the CUPE Airline Division employed at Air Canada, Air Transat, CALM Air, Cathay Pacific and First Air.
Hours of work and pay for flight attendants date back to the 1930’s. This approach means that only hours in-flight are paid, and that there is not full pay recognition for all time spent at work at the behest of the employer waiting for connecting flights, when there are cancellations or delays, or pre-flight briefings.
CUPE raised this issue before the House of Commons Committee on EI reforms on March 28, 1996. We received assurance from your colleague the Honourable Bob Nault that flight attendants, pilots, conductors and engineers on the railroad would not be subject to the “conventional” rules under the new EI hours-based system:
“As an ex-railroader, I do the same kind of thing as you do. There’s no way you can base it on the hours that you sit in a plane or on a train. It’s all based on your total weekly income, and that’s going to be based in the same way for you.” (emphasis added)
This longstanding interpretation is now in jeopardy due to an adverse ruling from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA).
It is totally unacceptable that your department has decided to implement this adverse interpretation. If this goes forward, HRDC could jeopardize, among other example, the EI eligibility for flight attendants of Air Canada who recently completed a successful work sharing agreement. As you are aware, the vast majority of our members are women. This ruling could have a devastating impact on their maternity, parental, and sickness benefits.
I urge you to intervene to prevent this adverse ruling from being implemented.
We believe there are alternative solutions which can be applied that will not disenfranchise many of Canada’s flight attendants from EI benefits.
I appreciate your early response to our request.
c.c. Honourable Claudette Bradshaw, Minister of Labour
Diane St. Jacques, Parliamentary Secretary