Ottawa, Ontario – As predicted by CUPE, the Conservative government’s decision to approve an application by WestJet to reduce the number of flight attendants on its aircrafts is setting a dangerous precedent for passenger safety with every airline operating in Canada. On the heels of WestJet, Air Canada has now also applied to Transport Canada to allow one flight attendant per 50 passenger seats on North American flights, a profit-making move criticized by CUPE National President Paul Moist and CUPE Airline Division President Michel Cournoyer.
“Granting an exemption to Air Canada, WestJet or any other Canadian air carrier is not in the public interest because it compromises the safety levels currently in place at the ratio of one flight attendant per 40 passenger seats,” said Moist. “In an emergency, all flight attendants play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of passengers.”
“The government acted far too hastily in taking this unilateral action with regard to WestJet, and we are asking federal Minister of Transport Denis Lebel not to approve Air Canada’s application for an exemption until our union representing that carrier’s 6,500 flight attendants has had an opportunity to review the related documentation and to present its case,” added Cournoyer.
“The federal government is responsible for starting this dangerous domino effect when it comes to passenger safety, and it needs to put a stop to it before other Canadian air carriers start following suit,” said Moist. “CUPE’s opinion is that the ratio of one flight attendant to every 40 passengers has been shown to work and should apply to everyone.”
CUPE represents more than 10,000 flight attendants employed by Air Canada, Air Transat, Calm Air, Canadian North, Canjet, Cathay Pacific, First Air and Sun Wing.
Attached is a copy of the letter forwarded by Paul Moist, CUPE national president, and Michel Cournoyer, CUPE Airline Division president, to Denis Lebel, federal Minister of Transport.
Dear Minister Lebel:
We are the certified bargaining agent for the flight attendants at Air Canada.
The rights and interests of our members will be directly affected if the Minister exercises his discretion to provide an exemption under section 5.9 (2) of the Aeronautics Act to Air Canada. As such, we are providing notice that our members are entitled to full participatory rights under the common law of procedural fairness. We also assert Charter section 7 rights, and assert Charter values as recognized in Doré v. Barreau du Québec, 2012 SCC 12,  1 S.C.R. 395 (“Doré”).
On May 6, Transport Canada announced via News Release that it had granted an exemption from the regulations for WestJet to operate its aircraft with a ratio of 1 flight attendant for every 50 passenger seats, rather than the current regulated ratio of one flight attendant for every 40 passengers. That exemption was not made public at the time, including any terms and conditions that may be attached to its issuance. The same May 6 News Release also offered other airlines the opportunity to apply for the same exemption to operate their aircraft with one flight attendant for every 50 passenger seats. No details were provided of any terms and conditions that may apply to these exemptions, although it was promised that each airline’s request for an exemption would be considered on its own merits.
If a similar exemption is granted for the aircraft at our airline, the exemption will have a direct effect on the rights and interests of the members we represent. It will affect their employment and future job prospects, as well as the safety and security of their working environment and for passengers, among other matters. As a result, we have the right to participate in the process of consideration of any exemption.
The present process does not adequately consider the participatory rights of directly affected employees. Common law procedural fairness requires that participatory rights be afforded to our members in the decision-making process to grant any such exemption for our airline. We therefore request that you and any of your delegated officials handling this exemption file:
1. Give us prompt and timely notice if you receive an application for this exemption from our airline.
2. Provide us with a copy of the airline’s application for such an exemption in a timely fashion.
3. Provide us with any other materials that are being considered by the responsible decision-maker as they review the airline’s request for an exemption so we have a complete record of everything that is before the decision-maker.
4. Give us sufficient time to make written submissions and oral representations on the airline’s request for an exemption before a decision on the exemption is made, including a meeting with the designated decision-maker on the file.
5. Provide us with a copy of the Minister’s decision on the application with accompanying reasons in a prompt and timely manner.
We are not aware whether you will be receiving the application for an exemption from our airline directly, or whether it will be sent instead to one of your delegated officials within your department to handle the request. We therefore request that this letter and any future submissions from us be conveyed to the responsible official within your department handling any request for an exemption and that we are advised of their name and contact details going forward.
Further, in the next few days, we will be providing you with detailed information and submissions demonstrating that the granting of this exemption generally is not in the public interest and will reduce the current level of safety and security provided on our aircraft with the current ratio of one flight attendant for every 40 passengers. This will constitute part of our written submissions on the application, and should form part of the record of material before the decision-maker. We would ask that you provide this information to any delegated official responsible for this file if the exemption request it is not being handled by your office directly.
Finally, once you have provided us with the specifics of any request for such an exemption at our airline, we will then be in a position to provide you with further detailed analysis of the request for an exemption to show how it does not meet the tests of section 5.9 (2) of the Aeronautics Act.
We look forward to your positive response to our requests and the provision of all the information we have identified so that you will have all the facts before you as you consider any request for an exemption in this regard.
Please forward you response directly to Richard Balnis, CUPE Senior Officer Research, at
1375 St. Laurent Blvd. Ottawa, ON K1G 0Z7, Tel: 613.237.1590, ext. 234, Fax: 613.237.5508, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Moist, National President
Michel Cournoyer, Component President