‘Confront this unprecedented pandemic with unprecedented action’
Unifor is calling on the Canadian government “to confront this unprecedented pandemic with unprecedented action" to protect laid-off workers at Sunwing and all other employees.
On March 17, Sunwing announced it will suspend operations after March 23 and all of its roughly 470 pilots will be laid off on April 8. This decision “is the first major layoff announcement of its kind in the Canadian aviation industry,” says Unifor, and is a direct result of the federal government's COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closure policies.
About 125 pilots at Sunwing also face possible eviction from company-rented residences in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Quebec City. To address this, the union is calling on governments to:
- establish direct, emergency income assistance measures to all workers and families – including those ineligible for employment insurance (EI) benefits
- waive the one-week waiting period for regular EI benefits and temporarily eliminate the qualifying hours needed to access benefits
- have Service Canada issue a directive to employers to code layoffs as "Layoff/Shortage of Work" instead of "other" to ensure no administrative bottlenecks prevent impacted workers from receiving money
- place restrictions on any stimulus funding for the aviation industry to ensure funds are directed to support employees rather than executives
- place a moratorium on all evictions and postpone any and all eviction orders currently in place
"Our members have mortgages, bills to pay and children to take care of, and will not be able to make ends meet if there isn't a comprehensive government strategy in place," says Barret Armann, president of Unifor Local 7378. "Any bailout package to the industry must come to workers and their families first and include written commitments from the employer that ensures all of our members will return to work once these travel restrictions are lifted."
Joint task force for auto industry
Unifor, FCA Canada, Ford of Canada and General Motors of Canada have launched a joint task force to implement enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse employees at all three companies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making up the task force are Jerry Dias, president of Unifor; Dean Stoneley, president and CEO of Ford of Canada; David Buckingham, chair, president and CEO of FCA Canada; and Scott Bell, president and managing director at GM Canada.
Currently, preventive measures under review at the three companies’ Canadian auto facilities include: visitor screening; increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touchpoints; and safety protocols for people with potential exposure and those who exhibit flu-like symptoms.
The task force members also discussed additional safety practices and actions, including break and cleaning schedules, health and safety education, health screening, food service and other areas designed to improve protections for employees.