MONTREAL — Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has applauded a resolution to the labour battle between Air Canada and its flight attendants that avoids a strike and settles the dispute through arbitration.
The two sides have agreed that an arbitrator will issue a binding agreement in about two weeks under federal labour laws that prevent a strike.
“This resolution will bring labour stability to the airline while addressing the workplace issues raised by the CUPE negotiating team,” she said in a news release Friday, hours after the deal was announced.
Despite the difficult circumstances, both parties were able to resolve their differences without any disruption to the public, the minister added.
“This negotiated settlement is unquestionably in the best interest of employees, the travelling public and the Canadian economy.”
Wages, working conditions and pension changes are issues, along with Air Canada’s (TSX:AC.B) plans to launch a discount carrier.
The 6,800 Air Canada flight attendants rejected two tentative agreements that the union negotiated this year. They had threatened to strike last month and complained loudly that the airline has forced them to swallow too many concessions over the years.
The flight attendants were forced to withdraw the strike threat when the federal government referred the bitter dispute to the national labour board.
Unlike the case with customer service agents, the arbitrator will have the latitude to craft a decision without being restricted to a choice of either proposal presented by each side.
The CAW arbitrator sided with the union’s proposal for a hybrid pension plan. New employees will have defined contribution plans, while existing workers will remain in defined benefit plans.
Union sources say its proposal will reflect the concerns of members that led them to twice reject tentative deals the union had proposed they ratify.
The latest agreement to send the conflict to arbitration was reached after the parties met Thursday with the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which was considering two referrals from the minister.
Both referrals, including the one involving whether Air Canada should be considered an essential service are expected to be declared moot by the chairwoman of the CIRB.
Hearings are to begin Oct. 28 and a binding arbitration award is to be made by Nov. 7. The labour board will appoint an arbitrator if the two sides can’t agree on one. Both parties also agreed to withdraw unfair labour practice complaints filed by Air Canada on Oct. 12 and by CUPE on Sept 19.