Back-to-work bill in the works

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on Monday introduced back-to-work legislation in the labour disputes between Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) and its pilots and machinists unions.

OTTAWA — Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on Monday introduced back-to-work legislation in the labour disputes between Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) and its pilots and machinists unions.

The bill follows a move by the minister last week to block a work stoppage at the airline by referring the disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

Raitt said Monday that the government wants to protect the Canadian economy with the legislation.

“You cannot have this (labour turmoil) impact the economy,” Raitt said in the foyer of the House of Commons.

Flights at Air Canada were set to stop this week after the airline said it would lock out its pilots. Meanwhile, Air Canada mechanics and baggage handlers said they would go on strike in the midst of the key spring holiday season.

However, the referral to the CIRB prevented both the airline and the unions from grounding the planes.

The proposed legislation would prevent a strike or lockout even after the board makes its report as to how a work stoppage would affect the health and safety of Canadians.

Air Canada’s employees have been trying to win back wages and other concessions they gave up to help the airline restructure under bankruptcy protection.

NDP Labour critic Yvon Godin said the back-to-work legislation was an attack on the workers.

“They are sending a strong message to business that they don’t have to negotiate,” Godin said of Air Canada.

News of the legislation came as Air Canada employees staged protest in Montreal and Toronto, where they accused the Conservative government of eroding workers’ rights.

In Montreal, workers blew whistles and plastic horns Monday to protest the government’s decision to prevent the machinists unions from going on strike.

Several carried placards marked, “Lisa Raitt, you’re not right,” in reference to the federal labour minister.

The pilots union and the machinists are the last two unions with which Air Canada needs to reach an agreement.

In September, the airline reached a deal with its flight attendants after a strike vote prompted Raitt to intervene.