Air Canada workers express frustration over denial of basic human rights

“Bill C-33 is not simply bad labour policy as the Air Canada walkout has demonstrated. It is also an affront to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s obligations under international law.”

The walkout of several Air Canada mechanics and ground crew at major airports across the country last Thursday and Friday was a clear expression of the frustration they feel at being denied their basic human right to bargain collectively and take job action, according to the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights (CFLR).

The walkout was sparked when three baggage handlers were suspended for 72 hours for heckling the federal Minister of Labour, Lisa Raitt, as she walked through Toronto's Pearson International Airport last Thursday night.

Raitt is the architect of the Harper government’s Bill C-33, which was passed earlier this month. The legislation ended collective bargaining between Air Canada and its 8,200 technical, maintenance and operational support employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and the airline’s 3,000 pilots represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA). It sent both disputes to a bias arbitration process in favour of the employer and prevented both unions from taking strike action.

“Bill C-33 is simply a bad labour law, and like all bad labour laws, it creates bad labour relations,” noted CFLR Board member and Ottawa-based human rights lawyer, Paul Champ. “Legislating an end to collective bargaining and possible strike action instead of letting the process unfold creates an unstable work environment and does not resolve issues that can only be solved through negotiation.”

The dispute escalated Thursday evening and Friday morning when other baggage handlers and ground crew at Montreal, Quebec City and Vancouver airports walked out in support of their Toronto colleagues. They returned to work later Friday when Air Canada was granted an injunction by the Canadian Labour Relations Board (CLRB) ordering an end to the dispute. Many flights across the country were cancelled or delayed by Air Canada as a result of the dispute.

“Bill C-33 is another cynical attempt by the Harper government to undermine the collective bargaining rights of workers Canada,” said Wayne Hanley, CFLR Board member and National President of Canada’s largest private-sector union, UFCW Canada. “The Harper government’s irrational attack on the universal principle that labour rights are human rights is undermining the hard-earned living standards of working families, and it’s creating a combative, non-productive environment in many of the country’s key industries.”

“The Air Canada walkout should reconfirm to Canadians that we need leadership in Ottawa that is committed to respecting universal rights and building productive relationships with workers and their unions. Bill C-33 is another example of how the Conservatives are moving Canada and its communities in the wrong direction,” added Brother Hanley.


The Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights (CFLR) is a national voice devoted to promoting labour rights as an important means to strengthening democracy, equality and economic justice here in Canada and internationally.