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Remarks by Judy Darcy
National President
Canadian Union of Public Employees
on federal inaction in the face of crisis at Air Canada
3 April 03

Our union represents the 8,000 flight attendants who work at Air Canada.

Six hundred of those flight attendants were laid off this morning. Many more could lose their jobs in the weeks ahead. And those who are left face deep cuts in their wages, their hours, their pensions or all three.

Contrary to Robert Milton’s media spin this is not “business as usual”. For flight attendants, for airline workers, it’s an all-out attack on their livelihood, their future security and their ability to earn enough to support their families.

This isn’t a haircut. It’s a decapitation.

And it’s no more acceptable to the Canadian public than it is to our members.

Yet what does the federal Minister of Transport do?

He stands on the sidelines, repeating the same old mantra: ’the policy of the government is working. The private sector has the matter in hand.

Unfortunately, this is business as usual for the Transport Minister.

He is perhaps the only person in Canada who is so blas 0061bout the state of the airline industry.

This is the same minister who fiddled while Canada 3000 crashed and burned.

This is the same minister who under pressure from the unions after September 11 agreed to look at setting up a blue ribbon committee, an emergency task force to propose an action plan to protect the health of the airline industry – and then never got back to us.

If he had taken his responsibility seriously then, Air Canada would be a stronger, more profitable airline today.

We say it’s time for federal action. And we make this demand not just on behalf of flight attendants but on behalf of all Canadians.

The airline industry is subject to boom and bust cycles. The responsibility of government is to support the industry to ensure that the essential transport system that weaves our country together can weather these storms.

The war against Iraq and the SARS outbreak have damaged Air Canada more than any other Canadian carrier. But we should not be panicked into a wholesale dismantling of the national flagship carrier because of a short-term dip in the balance sheet.

In the past few days we’ve heard different recipes for carving up Air Canada. What we haven’t heard is from the federal government. It sits on the sidelines, like a spectator at a tennis match, as if the outcome is not of major national importance.

We all know that left to the market, half the communities in this country that now have scheduled flights would be left without service. Left to the market, airlines in Canada will continue to crash. Left to the market, tens of thousands of good jobs will be lost to communities.

Is that the future for Canada that the federal Liberals are pushing? Is this the legacy they promise?

Well we say it’s time for the Transport Minister to stop writing airline policy on the back of a boarding slip. It’s time for the government to admit that its policy of “leave it to the market” is a colossal failure.

We are calling on the federal government to support Air Canada by taking action in four key areas:

We need smart regulation to shape an airline industry that meets the needs of Canadians across the country, reducing excess capacity while assuring safe, efficient, affordable and reliable air service.

We need to reduce the onerous burden of user fees on airlines and passengers for basic public services that should be supported through our tax system.

We need bridge funding to support Air Canada in the context of the current downturn in travel tied to the war against Iraq and the SARS outbreak.

And we need immediate action by the federal government to guarantee the pensions of Air Canada employees. These pensions are workers deferred wages, built up in some cases over three and four decades. We will fight any attempt to rob our members of their retirement earnings – with every means at our disposal.

Transport Minister Collenette seems content to hand over Canadian airline policy to Robert Milton, to the New York bankers and to the bankruptcy judge.

We say that’s unacceptable. For flight attendants and for Canadians.

We won’t stand for it and neither should you.

In the coming days and weeks, we will be letting the government know loud and clear what action we think is needed to strengthen Air Canada and the airline industry.

No more fiddling while Rome burns. We need government action now.