Ottawa averts Air Canada strike, lockout

Thu Mar 8, 2012 5:31pm EST
 
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By Susan Taylor and Randall Palmer

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Government headed off a simultaneous strike and lockout at the country's largest airline on Thursday, referring two labor disputes at Air Canada to a federal tribunal.

The labor actions would have halted services during a particularly busy week for Air Canada, as spring break shuts down many Canadian schools and families travel.

"We all know that it's March Break," Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told reporters. "We know this can have an effect on Canadian families, especially since this is a really peak travel season."

Raitt said the government had asked the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to consider whether a disruption at Air Canada would pose a health and safety risk.

There can be no work stoppage while the board is reviewing such a case. A similar move averted a strike by flight attendants in the fall, and Raitt said that case was not decided.

Government intervention undermines a union's ability to negotiate, said Paul Strachan, president of the pilot union.

"It's like negotiating with a monkey with the organ grinder standing behind you with a Sword of Damocles over your head," he said in an interview. "There's not much impetus on the monkey to bargain."

Air Canada had said it would lock out its 3,000 pilots at one minute after midnight on March 12, the time picked by its 8,600-member machinists' union to start a strike. Either stoppage could have grounded the airline.   Continued...