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Monday, June 5, 2023

Sunwing Union Opposes Canadian Carrier’s Plans to Hire Foreign Pilots

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The pilots’ union for Sunwing Airlines said it is pleading with Canada’s government to block the Ontario-based leisure carrier’s proposal to hire foreign pilots this winter to help with an anticipated spike in holiday travel.

For unions in Canada and the US, the use of foreign pilots by airlines as aviation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic is contentious. Despite claims of a shortage, the unions urge increased attempts to hire pilots from the airline’s home country.

“It’s a punch in the face,” Barret Armann, president of the union local that represents Sunwing pilots, said of the plan to hire non-Canadian pilots, adding that Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan “needs to step in and stop this.”

According to a Unifor union local message to pilots noting a meeting last week with airline management, Sunwing will submit an application with the government to bring in 65 pilots this winter as temporary foreign workers due in part to a “staffing difficulty” in the summer.

The acquisition of Sunwing is now underway by WestJet Airlines, the second-largest airline in Canada and a subsidiary of private equity firm Onex Corp.

It was unclear if Sunwing had begun a formal hiring procedure for international pilots. Inquiries for comment were not answered by Sunwing.

The memo described a job ad from Czech carrier SmartWings that said “foreign pilots will indeed work (in Canada) under our contract but be paid more than 75% of our pilots.” The memo said Sunwing has available pilots in Canada.

After two years of decline due to the epidemic, holiday air travel is expected to soar. Canadian airlines are preparing for a busy holiday season as COVID-19 travel rules are anticipated to be further relaxed by Canada.

As a result of a labor scarcity brought on by a rise in travel demand, airlines in the United States and Canada canceled thousands of flights this summer.

Compared to other industries, the utilization of pilots as temporary foreign labor is uncommon. According to official statistics, 32 pilot vacancies could be filled by temporary foreign workers in Canada during the first half of 2022. In contrast, within the same time period, 48,485 temporary farm worker permits were issued.

This month, O’Regan met with Unifor and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which has a distinct grievance against Sunwing for hiring foreign nationals. According to an O’Regan spokesman, it is up to the employer to fulfill the conditions for hiring temporary foreign workers.

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