WestJet Workers – Letter to Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. May 29, 2020

WestJet Workers - Letter to Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. May 29, 2020

Letter to Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. May 29, 2020

May 29, 2020

By Email: justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca
Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I’m writing you on behalf of 36,000 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), and thousands of our members in the air transportation industry, to express concerns regarding WestJet’s request for an exemption from Division XI from the Canada Labour Code.

It is our position that the request is not only baseless and shows lack of regard for the company’s responsibilities as a corporate citizen and employer, but it poses a major problem in the industry if granted. By granting the request, the federal government would set a precedent allowing employers in the air transportation industry to bypass minimum standards and protections afforded to workers at this tumultuous and difficult time. Furthermore, allowing an exemption would eradicate little security workers benefit from under regulations on group terminations. During this major crisis, workers’ rights must be protected.

Regulations for group terminations stipulated by federal law require an employer to give 16 weeks’ notice to groups of 50 or more workers being terminated, and also requires that such an employer work with the government on a mitigation plan that not only helps workers, but also reduce the impact of mass unemployment in a given community. The law requires that employers who cannot issue a 16 week notice, to pay workers in lieu of such a notice. The regulations not only benefit individual workers, but communities, and aim to alleviate pressure on social programs as a result of unemployment. There is a bigger picture to be considered, which WestJet shows blatant disregard for.

It is shameful that at a time when uncertainty is built into our everyday life, WestJet would cause additional turmoil for their employees. WestJet has benefitted from public money in the form of federal programs, yet, at the same time is absconding from their responsibility to workers who have driven up the value of their business. If employers are inconvenienced by the law, then the federal government must enforce minimum standards that are enshrined in the Canada Labour Code.

Even more problematic is that WestJet has demonstrated a pattern of behavior when faced with laws that are seen as impediments to their business. In 2019 they requested an exemption on laws pertaining to hours of work, rest period of workers, overtime refusal, including advance notice of schedule and shift changes.

Corporations like West Jet cannot neglect their social responsibility to communities in which they operate. While the public rallies behind businesses that have been the source of employment, the same businesses are under the impression that laws and regulations can be applied by choice, depending on circumstances they face.

Air transportation workers have a full understanding of the crisis their industry is in, thousands have already lost their jobs and their families will suffer for generations to come. Yet, workers have accepted this reality, and have seen little relief for dire circumstances they face, apart from the federal government’s emergency programs. Mortgage relief has backfired, in that banks are doubling up on interest on missed payments, rent relief is non-existent, despite all the hardships, most Canadians are bearing these incredibly difficult times with remarkable resilience.

In any other context, this request would be absurd and dismissed without debate; after all, workers are going without benefits, losing their livelihoods or are working in unsafe conditions because they have no choice, yet, unions and workers have not requested exemptions from their obligations as citizens and workers.

The IAMAW expects that the federal government will recognize the unjustness and dangers of this request and hold WestJet accountable to the broader community and their employees. Workers, at this juncture, deserve the luxury of time to plan ahead for what is proving to be an economic catastrophe.

Prime Minister Trudeau, Deputy Minister Christia Freeland, Minister Tassi, and Minister Garneau, millions of Canadian workers are counting on you to do the right thing and dismiss the baseless request.


Stan Pickthall
General Vice President- Canada


Cc: The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs