Evidence of meeting #31 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aveos.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Chuck Atkinson  President and Directing General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Mississauga, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada
  • Jean Poirier  General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Montréal, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada
  • Gilles Brosseau  Québec Coordinator, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada
  • Louis Erlichman  Canadian Research Director, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada
  • Tony Didoshak  General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Winnipeg, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada
  • Christopher Hiscock  President, Local Lodge 764, Richmond, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, meeting 31, televised for everyone's information.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are here for a study on the closure of Aveos Fleet Performance Inc.

Joining us today, from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada, we have Mr. Louis Erlichman, Canadian research director; Jean Poirier, general chairman; Chuck Atkinson, president and director general; Tony Didoshak, general chairman; Christopher Hiscock, president; and Gilles Brosseau, Quebec coordinator.

Welcome.

I am sure that Alexandre has given the directions.

Mr. Atkinson, I think you're going to open with some remarks. Please proceed.

8:45 a.m.

Chuck Atkinson President and Directing General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Mississauga, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before you and to present our views on the Aveos closure.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is the largest union in the Canadian air transport sector, having represented Canadian airline workers for over 70 years. We represent 2,600 Aveos workers, most of whom were transferred from Air Canada. We also represent around 2,300 members who continue to perform aircraft line maintenance at Air Canada.

The recent announcement of Aveos's closure and the loss of over 2,600 direct jobs across Canada is shocking, but it does not come as a surprise. It is the result of a series of government policies and Air Canada actions that have undermined the Canadian aircraft maintenance industry.

Aircraft maintenance is a growing global industry, providing highly skilled employment and a major component of Canada's skills and technology base. Aveos, the former heavy maintenance division of Air Canada, is a major repository of the skills and know-how on which this sector depends.

The Aveos closure is more than the loss of over 2,600 high-skilled jobs, thousands of spinoff jobs, and many millions of dollars of lost income and tax revenue. It has serious effects on the cities of Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver in these difficult economic times. The Aveos closure deals a body blow to this economically important sector.

When the federal government privatized Air Canada in 1988, we raised serious concerns about the potential for a privatized Air Canada to move much of its work and jobs out of Canada. The government responded by including in the Air Canada Public Participation Act “provisions requiring the Corporation to maintain operational and overhaul centres in the City of Winnipeg, the Montreal Urban Community and the City of Mississauga”.

The merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines has since added Vancouver as a major Air Canada maintenance centre.

In 1988 both the government and Air Canada stated publicly that the Air Canada Public Participation Act guaranteed that employment performing aircraft overhaul would be maintained, and indeed expanded, in these communities.

Frankly, these provisions did not allay our concerns. We feared that a privately owned Air Canada's drive for short-term gain would undermine this commitment. Our fears have now been realized.

From the time that Air Canada exited from creditor protection in 2004, Air Canada management proceeded systematically to dismantle the corporation, selling off assets and sucking over $2 billion out of the company, rewarding themselves handsomely while financially weakening the airline.

As part of this asset-stripping exercise, a majority share in the heavy maintenance division, Aveos, was sold for over $700 million in 2007. At that time, Air Canada committed contractually to provide Aveos with continuing work maintaining Air Canada's aircraft.

Subsequently, close to half of Air Canada's maintenance workforce was forced to transfer to Aveos on the promise of continued long-term employment, based on long-term Air Canada contracts.

Air Canada has not followed through on its commitment to provide the work to sustain Aveos, leading Aveos to file for creditor protection and announce its closure.

Air Canada has not provided us with the information as to where it plans to have the heavy maintenance work done. The speculation is that it may not be done in Canada.

While all of this has been unfolding, the federal government has stood by, making no effort to save this company and this sector. Even as Aveos announced its demise, the government has refused to act. While the government showed no hesitation to step in to quash our members' collective bargaining rights at Air Canada on the grounds of economic necessity, it is unwilling to take any steps to maintain thousands of jobs and a vibrant sector.

We are prepared to take legal action to get Air Canada to live up to the requirements of the 1988 legislation, but we are not here to talk about a legal issue. This is an economic and a moral issue for us. Is the government prepared to stand by and watch the demise of a major player in a key sector of our economy? That's the question.

We call upon the Harper government to respect its commitment under the law to support these jobs and the aviation maintenance industry in Canada.

Thank you.

Now we'll be open for questions.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you very much.

Mr. Nicholls.

April 3rd, 2012 / 8:50 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We know that the minister is going to hide behind his lawyers, and so we will talk about topics other than the current legislation.

The President and Chief Executive Officer of Air Canada suggested to this committee that the federal economic development agencies could assist in the establishment of new maintenance, repair and overhaul companies in Canada to employ the skilled labour and make use of the facilities that already exist.

What do you think the role of the federal government should be in getting your members back to work in Canada?

8:50 a.m.

Jean Poirier General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Montréal, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

We all know that the provinces and the mayors of the cities are prepared to support us. Yet, all we are hearing from the Conservative government right now is that there is no bailout plan. The government has no intention of helping us.

Today, we are really here to talk to the government and to tell it to get involved. The government must save jobs. It has a law to enforce and it must stop hiding. The government must stand with us, the provinces, the cities, Canadians and all those who today are unemployed and out on the street without any money and without a termination form. The government must get involved. This law falls within the federal government's jurisdiction and the federal government must get involved.

8:50 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

We are talking about the transfer of machinist and other jobs from Air Canada to Aveos. What year were most Air Canada employees transferred to Aveos?

8:50 a.m.

General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Montréal, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

Jean Poirier

With regard to Aveos, the sale was complete in 2007, but the jobs were not transferred until July 2011. Today, eight months later, everyone is out on the street.

Last year, I attended a meeting of the same parliamentary committee. All the same people may not have been there but I recognize a few who know what happened and who knew what was coming. Today, the members of the government will say that they no longer remember. They are sitting on the sidelines while people are out on the street without jobs. I am reiterating this a lot today because I want to speak to your emotions. The government is supposed to work for the people, for jobs, for Canadians. It must not work only for company shareholders.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

I would like to talk about the management transfers at Air Canada. Were managers at Air Canada transferred to Aveos?

8:55 a.m.

General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Montréal, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

Jean Poirier

Yes, absolutely. There are managers who moved directly from Air Canada to Aveos.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

So, it is possible that these people knew what was going to happen, that they were aware of the action Aveos was going to take and that they could have easily explained it to Air Canada management. Is that correct?

8:55 a.m.

General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Montréal, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

Jean Poirier

I have been part of the company from the beginning of this process. This is just my opinion, but I do not believe that all the managers who were transferred to Aveos were fully aware of the plan that brought us to where we are today. I think that all these decisions were made by senior management, either by Mr. Kolshak from United Airlines and Delta or perhaps by Mr. Butterfield. I do not believe that the lower managers were aware of what was happening.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

And yet, we know that the Conservatives did not want to call Mr. Kolshak as a witness, so we cannot ask him any questions about that.

Can you explain to the committee why the closure of Aveos' plants is in direct violation of the Air Canada Public Participation Act?

Is the privatization of Air Canada's maintenance facilities the first step toward shipping jobs off to other countries?

8:55 a.m.

General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Montréal, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

Jean Poirier

I think that people are beginning to have a clearer understanding of what is happening. As I explained a few weeks ago, there is a spirit underlying this act. You are all parliamentarians and you all know how it works when a law is established. A legislative committee meets and the law is discussed for months to ensure that the right things are put in the right place.

I listened to what Benoît Bouchard, who was there at the time, had to say. He said that no member from Quebec or Manitoba would have voted in favour of this bill had they known that it would result in this situation. They thought it was clear that the overhaul centres were going to be kept in the three cities. Vancouver is also now included.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

The Ontario Supreme Court's decision in this regard is clear. The judge said that Air Canada was complying with the law because of the existence of Aveos. Now that Aveos has closed its doors, it could be said that Air Canada is no longer complying with the Act.

8:55 a.m.

General Chairman, District Lodge 140, Montréal, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Canada

Jean Poirier

In my opinion, right now, the law is not being respected.