About one-third of the workforce is affected at Canada’s largest airport
In a sign how deep and long-lasting the impact of the pandemic is, Canada’s largest airport bowed to a new reality Tuesday, cutting 500 jobs and readjusting its business units for a smaller future.
“This reduction in force is a difficult but necessary step, and one that we take with great sadness,” said Deborah Flint, President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, the non-profit company that runs Toronto-Pearson.
After resisting major cuts for several months, Toronto becomes the latest – and largest – Canadian airport to implement drastic reductions. It comes on top of similar moves in Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton, among others.
“We are committed to maintaining our operations and the health and safety of the airport as we evolve our organization to drive our recovery,” said Flint. “I am confident that we have a capable and resilient team and the right approach to come through these challenging times with strength.”
The airport said it would work with its unions, Unifor and the Pearson Airport Professional Fire Fighters Association, to implement the cuts over the coming months. Two hundred vacant positions will be abolished, while 300 jobs will be cut through voluntary departures and layoffs.
The union representing 236 of the affected workers – Unifor – laid blame for the layoffs at the federal government’s feet.
“Canada’s airlines and airports are being left behind,” Jerry Dias, Unifor’s National President, said in a statement following the layoff announcement. “Minister [Marc] Garneau agreed with us at our July 11 meeting that the sector is among the hardest hit, and likely will be among the last to recover, but we still don’t see any movement to protect the industry’s future.”
Unifor met with Garneau last week and presented a policy paper meant to help the aviation industry weather the pandemic. It includes the creation of a national aviation strategy to secure jobs and access to smaller communities and and aviation industry-specific package of financial supports.
“Health and safety should remain the top priority, and thanks to Canada’s strong safeguards during the pandemic, we’re now in a position to begin the return to travel discussion,” said Dias. “The aviation industry needs a government-led plan to weather the downturn. Government’s failure to plan is failing the whole aviation sector.”
Toronto was not the only Canadian international airport announcing cuts Tuesday. On the East Coast, St. John’s International announced that it would cut 15% of its management and unionized positions, starting this week.
“This pandemic is like no other situation ever faced by the Airport,” the airport’s operator said in a statement. “It has left the Authority with no other choice but to adjust its workforce and continue to provide critical service to the Province.”
In early June, the airport’s chair of the board, Tom Williams, said the airport would have to borrow “a lot” of money just to keep the lights on.
“Currently, the Airport Authority is borrowing money to cover operating expenses,” said the statement. “This level of continued borrowing is unsustainable. Only 10% of the Authority’s operating budget is discretionary. However, the same level of safety and security standards must be maintained regardless of the volume of traffic or revenue.”
Both of Canada’s major airlines have drastically cut flights and active staff as a result of the pandemic. Air Canada and Westjet have cut their schedules by around 75% through the summer. Both airlines operate major hubs in Toronto.
A reduction in international flights has also hurt the airport’s fortunes as international operators cut back flights to Canada in response to ongoing border closures. Those flights are only slowly returning.
The GTAA said it is currently operating at 1996 passenger levels.
Flint also announced two executive departures as part of the cuts with two vice presidents leaving and their responsibilities redistributed throughout the organization.
Toronto-Pearson is Canada’s most indebted airport, owing $6.4 billion to bond holders, though when that debt is calculated per departing passenger, it falls to fourth place. The airport spent $201 million on salaries last year, compared to $295 million on servicing its debt.
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