Pilots say Air Canada quit talks, gov't disagrees

(JOEL LEMAY/QMI Agency Files)

(JOEL LEMAY/QMI Agency Files)


, Last Updated: 8:06 PM ET

CALGARY/OTTAWA - Air Canada pilots said on Tuesday the airline had abandoned contract talks in the hope that Ottawa would step in to resolve the dispute, but the country’s largest carrier said it was awaiting the union’s response to its latest offer.

Canadian Labour Minister Lisa Raitt also said talks had not broken down and the federally appointed conciliator remained in contact with both parties and was available to assist with negotiations.

“The minister has today spoken with her departmental officials and has confirmed that both parties continue to be engaged with our federal conciliator and that talks have not broken down,” Raitt spokeswoman Ashley Kelahear said.

The 3,000-member Air Canada Pilots Association said the airline had failed to put a proposal on the table within the 60-day conciliation period it had requested from the government. It then made a last-minute offer but did not negotiate, ACPA said.

The federal conciliation period expires in 60 days unless both sides agree to an extension. The pilots and conciliator agreed to extend the process but Air Canada refused, ACPA President Paul Strachan said in a statement.

The airline disputed the union’s claim: “Contrary to certain allegations by union representatives, Air Canada is not abandoning its efforts to negotiate a new contract with its pilots. Indeed, Air Canada remains at the table awaiting a response to its most recent offer.”

It added: “In light of two separate recent extensions to the conciliation period, it is also inaccurate to say that Air Canada has refused requests to extend conciliation timelines.”

Even so, the airline suggested the 21-day cooling-off period that the two sides now enter provides the parties with ample time to reach agreement, in light of the time elapsed since the start of negotiations.

Unions have complained that the speed at which Ottawa pushes unions back to work undercuts negotiations.

“It’s obvious that the airline’s executives want to run out the legislated time clock so they can foist a fake crisis on the federal government, in the hope that Ottawa will impose arbitration,” ACPA’s Strachan said.

The pilots rejected a tentative settlement in 2010 and have been without a contract since March 2001.

Air Canada has sought to set up a low-cost airline vacation destinations as competition from rivals heats up. The new carrier would pay lower wages than the main airline. ACPA and other unions oppose such a structure.

Air Canada’s A-series shares were down 2 Canadian cents at 97 Canadian cents on the Toronto Stock Exchange.