Unions, industry and labour relations

Westjet, ALPA agree to save more than 1,000 pilot jobs

People for whom there is no work will be paid thanks to a federal wage subsidy

A Westjet Boeing 737-800 lands at Vancouver International Airport in August 2019 (photo: Brett Ballah).

Westjet and its union have agreed to save more than 1,000 pilot jobs threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline and the Air Line Pilots Association made a joint announcement Thursday afternoon after “robust” negotiations. Westjet planned to lay off more than 1,700 pilots across its main line, Encore and Swoop as a result of cratering demand for flights.

“We thank ALPA for the joint effort in working with us to assist our airline in remaining flexible and competitive,” said Westjet Chief Operating Officer  Jeff Martin in a statement. “Our pilots will be a critical element of our recovery and retaining these important roles leaves us better positioned to recover strongly and return WestJet to a global airline.” 

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“On behalf of WestJet Encore pilots, I am pleased we were able to successfully reach an agreement,” said Captain Ryan Leier, representing WestJet Encore pilots. “We recognize that these are uncharted skies as we deal with the effects of COVID-19 and this agreement will help our pilots and the airline get through this together.”

Details of the amendment to the collective agreement were not released, though 1,250 jobs will be conserved, with only 500 layoffs.

As a result of the pandemic, Westjet plans only 574 weekly departures in May, all of them within Canada, a reduction of more than 90% of what it would typically fly in the spring. It has also grounded dozens of routes to the United States, Caribbean, and Europe.

“The agreement we have reached is due to the dedication of the WestJet executive and the WestJet pilots, in a time where everyone is making sacrifices to protect our airline,” said ALPA Captain Dave Colquhoun representing pilots at Westjet and its subsidiary Swoop.

Westjet said it would take advantage of a federal wage subsidy which covers 75% of an employee’s salary to a weekly maximum of $847.

“Where it is of benefit to the employee, WestJet will use [Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy] to keep the inactive employee on the payroll to ensure they remain connected to the company,” the company said in a statement. 

The subsidy could be worth more than $125 million to Westjet and its staff by the time it expires June 6.

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