The union representing 9,000 flight attendants at Air Canada says the airline is pocketing federal wage supports to pad their bottom line, and leaving thousands of its employees behind.

Air Canada announced an additional 1,400 layoffs on January 13, including 700 active  flight attendants at Air Canada Mainline and a further 100 at Air Canada Rouge who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), on top of thousands of others who have been laid off since the pandemic rocked the industry in March 2020.

Despite months of contending with the airline that all members laid off should receive the weekly Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) – which is the stated purpose of the CEWS – Air Canada contends that only those still on active duty, who represent a fraction of the company’s actual workforce, will be used to access this subsidy.

“The CEWS was created so workers have a job to return to as the economy rebounds. Why is Air Canada refusing free money to help the workers who built this company keep their jobs?” asked Wesley Lesosky, President of the Air Canada Component of CUPE. “And why is the government allowing Air Canada to take the wage subsidy and run, padding their bottom line and leaving behind thousands of their employees?”

Air Canada is the only major airline in Canada that is denying access to the CEWS for its inactive workforce. WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing have all continued access to the program since spring 2020 because they know it is the right thing to do for their employees and their families.

“The entire purpose of the CEWS was to help companies avoid sweeping mass layoffs,” continued Lesosky. “But Air Canada wants to have their cake and eat it too, by taking the subsidy and still laying us off. It’s an absolute travesty that the federal government is letting them get away with it. Why has the federal government allowed large corporations access to this program, without any conditions to ensure workers that are subject to layoff will be protected?”

Allowing workers to retain their jobs on CEWS allows them to retain important benefits during a pandemic, and it also would allow them to continue to work periodically without penalty – neither of which are possible when workers are laid off and forced onto Employment Insurance.