Canadian aviation sector to be permanently hurt without aid, unions say

FILE PHOTO: A man pushes a baggage cart wearing a mandatory face mask as a "Healthy Airport" initiative is launched for travel, taking into account social distancing protocols to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Major Canadian labor unions said on Thursday the aviation sector would suffer permanent damage unless Ottawa provided a C$7 billion ($5.3 billion) 10-year low-interest loan to offset the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, which has slashed travel.

The unions, which represent more than 310,000 workers, said in a statement that Canada remained the only leading developed nation not to have unveiled concrete measures to help the travel and tourism sector.

“We need urgent funds for the aviation sector or there won’t be Canadian airlines, and that will cost us all much more,” said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union.

The unions also want direct financial aid tied to the resumption and maintenance of air services.

The federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said it is looking at aid for the aviation sector but has yet to make any announcements.

The office of federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, asked about the unions’ demand, said in a statement that Ottawa was “actively working to put forward solutions” for the sector but gave no details.

Air Canada, the nation’s largest carrier, wants Ottawa to relax travel restrictions which stipulate that people arriving from abroad must go into quarantine for 14 days to make sure they do not spread the virus.

On Thursday, Air Canada said it was finalizing an initial order for 25,000 rapid testing kits from Abbott Laboratories.

Dr. Jim Chung, the carrier’s chief medical officer, said rapid testing was “a means to enable governments to relax current blanket travel restrictions and quarantines in a measured way”.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao and Richard Chang