Canada set to respond if Air Canada workers strike

Mon Sep 19, 2011 6:36pm EDT
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By Allison Martell and Randall Palmer

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government looked set to legislate Air Canada's flight attendants back to work if last-ditch contract talks break down, because of concern that a strike would damage a still-fragile economy.

"If there is a work stoppage ... we will act to protect Canada's economy," Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told the House of Commons less than an hour before a scheduled meeting with airline and union representatives.

The Conservative government legislated striking Air Canada call-center and check-in staff back to work in June, citing the same concerns that a strike at Canada's largest airline would hurt the economy.

The dispute with the flight attendants centers on pensions for new hires, wages and working conditions for the airline's 6,800 flight attendants. The two sides have been talking for more than 24 hours to prevent a strike, which could start at one minute past midnight on Wednesday.

The airline says it would operate on a partial schedule if there is a strike, using code-share flights operated by partner airlines.

Flight attendants at Chorus Aviation's Jazz, which operates short-haul Air Canada Express-branded flights under contract, belong to a separate union.

Air Canada's stock was down 1 percent at C$1.60, while shares of WestJet Airlines Ltd, Air Canada's main domestic competitor, were flat at C$13.61. WestJet has said it will add extra flights if there is an Air Canada strike.