Unifor calls on government to protect aviation workers as Sunwing suspends operations

Unifor Press Release | March 17, 2020

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 24 seconds.

Sunwing Airlines announced it will suspend operations after March 23, 2020 and all pilots, approximately 470 in total, will be laid off on April 8, 2020.

Approximately 470 pilots in total will be laid off as result of Sunwing’s decision. Andy Cline Photo

“We will not accept any situation where workers are left to fend for themselves, not at Sunwing, not anywhere,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National president. “That’s why we’ve called on all levels of government to confront this unprecedented pandemic with unprecedented action to protect the livelihoods of workers affected by this crisis.”

Sunwing’s decision to suspend operations and layoff all pilots was the first major layoff announcement of its kind in the Canadian aviation industry. The decision is a direct result of the federal government’s COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closure policies.

Making matters worse, approximately 125 pilots at Sunwing face possible eviction from company-rented residences in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Quebec City.

To address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Unifor has called on the federal government and provincial governments to immediately implement a wide series of measures to protect workers across all industries including but not limited to:

  • Establish direct, emergency income assistance measures to all workers and families – including those ineligible for employment insurance benefits;
  • Waive the one-week waiting period for regular employment insurance benefits and temporarily eliminate the qualifying hours needed to access benefits;
  • Service Canada must issue a directive to employers to code layoffs as “Layoff/Shortage of Work” instead of “other” to ensure no administrative bottlenecks prevent impacted workers from receiving money;
  • Place restrictions on any stimulus funding for the aviation industry to ensure funds are directed to support employees rather than executives;
  • Place a moratorium on all evictions and postpone any and all eviction orders currently in place.

“Our members have mortgages, bills to pay, and children to take care of, and will not be able to make ends meet if there isn’t a comprehensive government strategy in place. We will not let our members go without a roof over their heads,” said Barret Armann, Unifor Local 7378 president. “Any bailout package to the industry must come to workers and their families first and include written commitments from the employer that ensures all of our members will return to work once these travel restrictions are lifted.”

Unifor has also asked that the federal government develop a long-term solution to support airlines such as Sunwing that will undoubtedly face challenges as service levels normalize once the pandemic is contained. In the case of the 2015 MERS outbreak, passenger traffic levels did not normalize for more than four months and during the SARS outbreak in 2003 passenger levels did not to return to normal levels for more than six months. With the current COVID-19 outbreak, it is estimated that passenger traffic may not return to current levels for more than a year.

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