As COVID-19-related safety measures are increasingly being lifted across the country, CUPE – Canada’s flight attendant union – is calling on the federal government to ensure airlines continue providing flight attendants with workplace PPE so that workers remain protected once passenger mask mandates are lifted.
CUPE and other unions representing workers in the airline sector have participated in regular calls with federal regulators to express our views on safety issues related to the pandemic. Nevertheless, as stakeholders, we have been routinely caught off guard by unexpected changes to COVID-19 safety procedures and requirements which has been deeply concerning to our members.
CUPE recently surveyed its 15,000 members in the airline sector on their views respecting ongoing COVID-19 safety measures, and the result was very strong. Many flight attendants believe they are currently well-protected and thousands want to see respiratory protections for flight attendants remain a company-provided option if and when passenger mask mandates are lifted.
“We all look forward to the day that COVID is under control enough to no longer need mask mandates onboard for passengers, but we have to recognize that occupational health and safety hazards for flight attendants still remain,” said Troy Winters, CUPE National health and safety officer for the airline sector. “There are thousands of workers that expect their employers to protect them, and they expect the regulators to ensure companies are complying with the health and safety laws.”
Our experience has shown us that many carriers will seek to return to pre-pandemic practices. They will point to the practices at other carries and say they need to race to return to normal for the sake of operations or corporate image. But the views of the frontline workers in the airline sector are now very clear: most workers want to keep the ability to wear protective equipment when they feel their health is at risk.
We hope that the lessons from this pandemic will not be so quickly forgotten. If and when the federal government relaxes masking requirements for passengers, we expect regulators to continue to require employers to provide the personal protective equipment that workers need to be safe on the job.