Air Canada, pilots continue talks




, Last Updated: 1:13 PM ET

Air Canada said on Monday that contract talks with its 3,000 pilots are scheduled to continue this week, adding it is confident it can avoid a labour disruption, which could come as early as Friday morning.

Pilots, represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA), repeated that they did not want a strike, even as members voted on whether to give their bargaining committee a mandate to walk off the job.

“It is business as usual, and customers can continue to make their travel plans and book in confidence,” Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said in an email.

She said talks were scheduled to continue beyond Tuesday with the assistance of a federally appointed mediator.

A 21-day cooling off period in the talks, which had been taking place under a government-appointed conciliator and following a legislated timetable, ends at 12:01 a.m. EST (5:01 GMT) on Tuesday.

At that time, Air Canada will be in a legal position to file 72 hours notice of a lockout, meaning it can lock out the pilots if it wants to as early as 12:01 a.m. on Friday.

ACPA will be in a position to file its 72-hour notice of a strike once it has the results from its strike mandate vote, and if the pilots back a mandate. Spokesman Paul Howard said results would likely be available on Tuesday at around 5 p.m. EST.

“We will report the results of our vote tomorrow but we are waiting to see what the corporation does as of midnight tonight,” Howard said.

He said the pilots had no plans to strike and that the vote was a “defensive measure in case the corporation decides to do something”.

In any event, Canada’s Conservative government has shown that it will not tolerate a labour disruption at Air Canada, which it regards as an important driver of economic growth. Last year, Ottawa stepped in twice to halt labour strife at the airline.

“The minister remains committed to doing what it takes to protect the public interest and help unions and employers achieve constructive labour relations,” Ashley Kelahear, a spokeswoman for Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, said in an email on Monday.

Air Canada’s shares were off 2 cents, or 1.8%, at $1.07 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday. Shares of rival WestJet Airlines Ltd were nearly 3% firmer at $13.72.

(Reporting By Nicole Mordant in Vancouver and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; editing by Rob Wilson)