Labour Minister Raitt welcomes renewed talks between Air Canada, pilots union

OTTAWA – Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says the best solution to the labour strife between Air Canada and its pilots would be for the two sides to reach a deal by themselves.

Raitt’s words Friday follow news that the two sides are returning to the bargaining table for 10 days to try to reach a tentative deal under the guidance of a federal arbitrator.

Under legislation introduced by Raitt and passed last month, both sides were blocked from initiating job action and all unresolved issues were sent to binding arbitration.

The move was received angrily by many of Air Canada’s 3,000 pilots, and was followed by some pilots calling in sick on more than one occasion, disrupting the airline’s schedule and angering passengers.

On Thursday the two sides announced they would give negotiations one last shot.

Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) noted the federal legislation contained a clause that allows the two sides to ask an arbitrator to facilitate negotiations.

In a release Friday, Raitt said she would “appoint an arbitrator shortly.”

“As the legislation permits, the employer and the union can continue or resume their discussions, as nothing prevents them from reaching an agreement of their own before a decision is rendered by an arbitrator,” she said.

“The best solution in any dispute is one that the parties reach themselves.”

In a release Thursday, the Air Canada Pilots Association said if a deal isn’t reached then the 90-day arbitration process outlined in the Conservative government’s back-to-work legislation will kick in.

Both the airline and the union have agreed to a media blackout during the negotiations.

The airline was poised to lock out the pilots earlier this year, but the move was short-circuited by back-to-work legislation.

Air Canada has been beset by labour problems with all of its major unions for months.

The federal government also intervened this year to prevent a strike by Air Canada ground crews. Some ground staff in Toronto staged a wildcat strike to show their anger, disrupting the airline’s operations.

Last year Air Canada ticket agents and customer service staff staged a brief strike before reaching a deal after Raitt threatened to legislate them back to work. Raitt also pulled levers behind the scenes when flight attendants rejected a tentative agreement and held a strike vote.

Air Canada’s largest union representing some 8,300 employees including mechanics, electricians, inspectors and baggage and cargo handlers said it also hopes to restart negotiations.

“We will be discussing the same sort of scenario with Air Canada (but) haven’t yet got any agreement or anything like that,” said IAMAW District president Chuck Atkinson.

“That’s been our intention from the very beginning, we’re always open to having more discussions.”