The company’s recent town hall meeting included some positive takeaways like network growth, recalls, and even the possibility of hiring next year.
You should know that while it is important that the employer engage our members directly, it is sometimes a very one-sided take on the realities you face out on the line. In some cases, it can misrepresent the interactions we have had with management. There are a few things that we would like to clarify or expand upon:
Will mandatory mask policies be removed once everyone onboard is fully vaccinated?
It was stated by the company that were government mandates to be removed, the company’s policy might be changed to allow for masks to be optional in the workplace.
To be clear: the Union has not had any discussion with management on this. The union’s position is that masks ought to be maintained until we are no longer dealing with a pandemic spread situation. As an international carrier, it is not as simple as following local guidelines. The scope of our operations must also be considered as well as the hazard that this poses to crews.
Cabin crew as stakeholders:
The company made a point of noting our membership’s important place as a stakeholder. In its responses to you, management continues to talk about risk assessments proving service is safe and stated that “health and safety participated”. It should not come as a shock, that there are frequently disagreements between management and the Union regarding matters related to safety and service increases. And while it is true that we participate in good faith, this does not mean that we agree.
Our concerns with the company’s risk assessments include, but are not limited to:
- The risk assessments include the monitoring and review of injuries and health and safety complaints. But the company is so behind reviewing them that huge numbers of reports have sat for extended periods before being looked at by management.
- Cases where measures called for in the risk assessment were partially completed. This has the effect of nullifying the reported “residual risk” level.
- The company hasn’t made clear where it draws the line in terms of how many injuries would cause it to re-assess its processes (known as an accepted level of risk).
- The company flatly refused to allow our CUPE subject matter expert in immune systems participate in the service risk assessment.
- The company’s infectious disease expert agreed that the risk assessment into service needed to be re-evaluated based on the reports that you have been filing, and realities you have been expressing. Yet the original assessment continues to be cited as proving service levels are safe.
- A lack of record in the final document for dissenting opinions or issues that the group felt were important but could not reach consensus on.
- Various technical/procedural concerns with the process itself.
The company’s duty to inform:
On the call, the company stated that it didn’t have stats on hand but that the health and safety committees have the stats on COVID in the workplace. This is incorrect. Only the management has full and complete numbers since only the employer currently has full access to reports. The joint committees do their best to keep track but do so using a patchwork of illness/injury reports and anonymous data generated by contact tracing. The result is confusing, and sometimes inaccurate.
Consider this: If it is true that the company management doesn’t have full figures related to COVID-19 in the workplace, how on earth are risk assessments and services changes approved?
The Canada Labour Code makes it explicitly clear in section 125(1) that it falls to the employer to advise workers about hazards in the workplace, safe work practices, and maintain accurate records. The role of health and safety committees is primarily (but not exclusively) to participate in development of company policies, procedures, and programs. We are also participating in investigations, review health and safety complaints and to formulate recommendations to the employer based on findings.
The Union disputes the company’s benchmarking:
Nearly 30 minutes of the town hall focussed on the company’s comparison of service on other carriers, noting that Lufthansa and Qatar exceed our standards. But we are a different airline from a different country and cannot properly be compared.
To be clear: we feel that it is important to consider all aspects of the competition, and to keep in mind that foreign carriers may operate under different health and safety laws and regulations as well as crew complements.
For example, the union raised the decision of Southwest and American Airlines to postpone re-introduction of alcohol onboard their flights citing a rise in disruptive passenger incidents. Our management declined to follow even though we continue to grapple with the same problems onboard.
Particularly within North America, the Union has noted that our service standard far outpaces the competition at a time when safety should be the priority. Our CUPE member airlines report that this is causing a vicious circle in the domestic market: as our company ups service, it prompts the competition to discuss increasing theirs. Our management then argues service needs to be upped further due to the competition.
It was mentioned that customers are saying it’s safe to fly. What the passengers believe to be safe and what is necessary to ensure safety are not always aligned. The law does not say “ask the customer for safety advice”. It requires dialogue with the workers for this kind of feedback.
The Union and company spent many months collaborating on service that both respected the need for limited contact, while also providing our customers the nourishment they need in an appealing way. The Union made it clear that it was prepared to continue work to develop safe service with the company. Instead, management appears to be taking a “COVID is over” approach intended to bring us back to pre-COVID levels as quickly as possible no matter what employees report.
In fact, the company has increasingly portrayed COVID-19 measures as an obstacle to its recovery and success.
Let’s not forget that at a time when the company was being slammed for its marketing at the end of the second wave and being made into a scapegoat by politicians, it was measures like clean care kits, crew in full PPE and a nice product with limited interaction that were instrumental to re-gaining public confidence in our industry. Things like masking and avoiding close physical contact are proven to be some of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of this virus. Our industry must continue to prove that it is part of the solution – not the problem – and this will not be achieved with meal choices.
Our dedication to reporting, strict and efficient onboard COVID procedures, and maintaining our PPE during the pandemic is why passengers feel safe – not the number of drink choices. We agree that service is important. Great service includes, above all, keeping everyone – crew and customers – healthy and safe so they can get to where they are going and return home to their families.
The Union’s bulletins on reporting can be found here:
Your Air Canada Component of CUPE Health and Safety Committee