Union celebrates Sunwing not hiring temporary pilots

Unifor says staffing shortages 'due to company's lack of willingness to sit down and address concerns held by employees'

Union celebrates Sunwing not hiring temporary pilots

Unifor is celebrating as it says Sunwing Travel Group has decided not to push through with plans to hire pilots through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

The airline had planned on hiring roughly 65 temporary pilots this winter to operate from various Canadian gateways, to alleviate worker shortages.

"Our main concern from the get-go was training and safety," says Lana Payne, Unifor national president. "As a union, we expect rigorous analysis before an employer is allowed to use the TFWP. We're pleased that Sunwing chose to back away from using TFWP and honour our collective agreement."

Previously, Payne noted that the company ”will essentially be able to use the TFWP to hire pilots who do not meet the company's own training requirements”.

Staffing shortages

According to the union, while Sunwing claims to be looking to hire from outside Canada in hopes of addressing a labour shortage, the real issue is that they have not done enough to hire local pilots.

"Sunwing's staffing shortages are not due to a lack of qualified applicants but are due to the company's lack of willingness to sit down and address the concerns held by their employees," says Barret Armann, president of Unifor Local 7378, which represents 450 Sunwing pilots.

"We offered to work with the company this past summer to create a pathway that would have allowed for proper staffing for the winter flight program. Instead of looking for ways to create a competitive contract to attract pilots, Sunwing looked overseas for a quick fix."

Sunwing had also planned to pay the European pilots a higher rate than full-time Canadian Unifor pilots, according to the union.

In-mid October, Unifor wrote a letter to Steven West, the director of the TFWP overseen by Employment and Social Development Canada, with these same claims. They also sent a letter to Len Corrado, Sunwing president, to express that they are working to have their plan to hire through the TFWP denied.

In April 2021, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, managers at the Sunwing were given extra training in resilience strategies to help them and employees cope with the stress of working.

Out of necessity

Sunwing had previously claimed that their use of the TFWP is out of necessity.

“Sunwing uses temporary foreign worker pilots as a last resort as training bottlenecks limit the number of Canadian pilots it can hire and train for these highly skilled jobs,” said Mark Williams, then Sunwing president, at the International Trade Committee in 2015.

He noted that the airline does not use foreign pilots in the winter “to save money”.

“The TFW program mandates that foreign workers must make at least as much as their Canadian counterparts,” said Williams. “In addition, Sunwing pays housing, car, and living allowances to these foreign workers that are roughly equal to the wages we pay to these pilots. That means a foreign pilot costs Sunwing almost twice as much as a Canadian pilot.”

He also noted that by hiring TFW pilots, Sunwing creates “more than five Canadian jobs” by hiring cabin crew, maintenance, airport and office staff to support the fleet.

In August 2020, Sunwing gave 100 frontline employees free, all-inclusive vacations to honour their efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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