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WestJet asks minister for labour code exemptions affecting layoffs

Last Updated May 21, 2020 at 5:13 pm MDT

WestJet head office is shown after the company laid off nearly 7000 employees, in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, March 25, 2020. WestJet Airlines Ltd. says it will lay off 1,700 pilots as the company continues to struggle with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — WestJet Airlines Ltd. says it has asked the federal labour minister for an exemption to Canada Labour Code provisions to facilitate group terminations.

The company said in an email the exemption would give it flexibility “to act in a timely manner” amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has tanked travel demand across the globe.

The April 27 letter to Labour Minister Filomena Tassi, signed by vice-president Mark Porter and obtained by The Canadian Press, states that WestJet expects to cut some employees and that the provisions are “seriously detrimental” to its operations and “unduly prejudicial” to the company and its employees.

Chris Rauenbusch, a union official who represents WestJet flight attendants, says that an exemption would void the requirement of 16 weeks notice for terminating more than 50 workers, opening the door to mass layoffs that are effective immediately.

The exemption would also nix the need to engage in a union-employer joint committee to develop possible job training for new roles and kill the union’s ability to request federal arbitration.

Air Canada said last week it will lay off about 20,000 employees, but WestJet says it has “not made any decisions to move ahead with terminations.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020.

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The Canadian Press