Expected layoffs from Canadian airline WestJet have hit workers in Manitoba as the company begins to contract out all customer service and floor handling duties in the province.
WestJet announced in June that it would lay off 3,333 workers nationwide due to business losses caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. The company said it would consolidate its call center in Alberta and contract out its operations at all but four of its 38 domestic airports, leaving Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.
Airport Terminal Services is contracted to provide services at all other airports in Canada. The layoffs are permanent and will take effect in the coming days.
A spokesman for Unifor, a union representing about 110 laid-off workers in Winnipeg and Brandon, called the move “a room in the face.”
Among the union spokespersons, the youngest person has 16 years of experience and is earning $ 23 an hour. The same employee is paid $ 13 an hour, and there is basically no benefit to doing the same job as a contract worker, said Chris McDonald, an aide to the national head of Unifor.
“Yes, it’s difficult for all the airlines in the country now, but the crisis will end, the Govt will end, and things will be taken back from time to time in the future,” McDonald said.
“WestJet would have outsourced all of their work to third-party companies that basically relied on minimum wage workers.”
The Calcutta-based company had 14,000 employees before epidemic border closures and travel restrictions brought in two-thirds of its fleet, WestJet said in a June announcement.
Activities have been reduced by 90 per cent year-on-year. Despite the freeze hiring, executive, vice president and director salaries being cut and more than 75 per cent of its capital projects suspended, CEO Ed Sims said the company would have to make “painful decisions” to ensure its credibility.
McDonald accused the company of using the epidemic as a way to avoid obligations to its direct employees, many of whom were recently unionized.
“It was the last major airline in the country to sit as a non-union. Over the years, employees have realized they need a union,” he said.
“What they did was they took the opportunity to contract the job forever. It’s not a coward issue. It’s the end of the business.”
A WestJet spokesman said no other layoffs were planned for Manitoba at this time.