Sunwing union opposes Canadian carrier’s plans to hire foreign pilots

Sunwing union opposes Canadian carrier’s plans to hire foreign pilots

By Alison Lambert

(Reuters) – The Sunwing Airlines Pilots Association said it is urging the Canadian government to halt the Ontario-based entertainment airline’s plan to hire foreign pilots this winter to help deal with an expected surge in holiday travel.

The airline industry’s use of foreign pilots in aviation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is sensitive to unions in Canada and the United States. These unions want greater efforts to hire pilots from the airlines’ home countries despite complaints of shortages.

โ€œItโ€™s a punch in the face,โ€ Barrett Arman, president of the local union representing Sunwing pilots, said of the plan to hire non-Canadian pilots, adding that Labor Secretary Seamus Oโ€™Regan โ€œneeds to step in to stop this.โ€

Sunwing will file with the government to bring in 65 pilots this winter as temporary foreign workers due in part to a summer “recruitment issue,” according to a local Unifor union memo for pilots citing a meeting last week with the airline’s management.

Sunwing is in the midst of the acquisition of WestJet Airlines, Canada’s second-largest airline, owned by private equity firm Onex Corp.

It was not clear if Sunwing had begun a formal process to hire foreign pilots. Sunwing did not respond to requests for comment.

The note described a job advertisement from Czech company SmartWings that said that “foreign pilots will already operate (in Canada) under our contract but will be paid over 75% of our pilots”. The memo said Sunwing has pilots available in Canada.

SmartWings did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Holiday air travel is expected to boom after the recession caused by the pandemic in the past two years. Canadian airlines are preparing for the busy Christmas season, as Canada is expected to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Airlines in the United States and Canada cut thousands of flights this summer as a pickup in travel demand led to a labor shortage.

The use of pilots as temporary foreign workers is rare compared to other sectors. In the first half of 2022, Canadian employers were given permission to fill 32 pilot jobs with temporary foreign workers, according to government data. In comparison, 48,485 temporary agricultural work permits were issued during the same period.

This month O’Regan met with Unifor and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which have a separate complaint about Sunwing giving the work to foreigners. A spokeswoman for Origin said it was up to the employer to meet the requirements to bring in temporary foreign workers.

The CEO of Air Canada said pilots are not a problem for the country’s largest airline.

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