Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Kaylie Tiessen. I work in the research department at Unifor studying the air transportation sector as well as many other sectors. This is one of my favourites.
Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector. We represent pilots, customer service representatives, ramp attendants, baggage handlers, flight attendants, airport authority workers, flight service specialists and air traffic controllers. All of these workplaces have experienced the effects of a shortage of workers in the last year.
These labour shortage conversations are nothing new. We've heard a couple of times today already that this is not something that's recent. These conversations have been ongoing. One thing we're all talking about in Unifor across the sector is higher-quality work. That's one of the many solutions needed. What's become clear to our members as we listen to these conversations is that government doesn't truly understand the root of this problem and our employers don't necessarily understand the root of the problem, or some of them just refuse to make the changes necessary to fix some of these issues.
In higher-wage jobs like air traffic control and with pilots, some of our employers have really manufactured a shortage of labour by failing to hire and train an appropriate number of workers after people have retired or by even preparing ahead of time. In lower-wage jobs, employers have manufactured a shortage by paying low wages and creating very chaotic work rules that leave workers with little ability to plan their lives outside of work or to make ends meet. They go and work somewhere that is maybe more stable.
In customer service roles, employers are able to hire people, and they're filling the roles, but turnover is really high because of inadequate training, low wages or precarious schedules. The job that could be very fulfilling, and used to be very fulfilling, turns out to be less fulfilling as workers are subject to violence and harassment by customers and are provided with little support from their employers. It shouldn't be a surprise that if an employer treats their workers unfairly, they will be hard pressed to retain employees or to hire them at all.
I have a couple of examples. Our pilot members at Sunwing could soon be working side by side with people hired on temporary contracts who are paid more than they are for the same work. Sunwing has applied to hire workers through the temporary foreign worker program, but we believe the company has not done enough to hire pilots who are available to work in Canada.
We've heard reports from our members at Sunwing that they had upwards of 800 applicants for a recent job posting for pilots, but they hired only about 150, or less than a quarter of those qualified applicants. Sunwing has manufactured its own labour shortage by not hiring and training pilots in advance of the busy travel season, and is now taking advantage of the current labour market situation in order to undermine our members' collective agreement and the quality of work available in Canada. Permanent jobs could be offered to pilots from abroad who would become a part of the Canadian workforce, benefiting from the collective agreement and the general protections offered most workers in Canada.
Another example is contract flipping. Contract flipping is a common practice in the sector that treats workers unfairly and leads to a shortage of people who are interested in doing that kind of work. Airport authorities, airlines such as WestJet and Air Canada, and virtually all international carriers that fly into Canada create incredibly precarious work by contracting out particular tasks, including baggage handling, wheelchair handling and customer service. Every few years those contracts are flipped and new suppliers take over. That's kind of common practice. The work is exactly the same, but the winning company does not have to hire the workers back or provide the benefits or other provisions they may have earned over time. The collective agreement does not follow the job either.
Unifor members faced this demeaning and really heart-wrenching situation at least three times this year when their employer lost a contract. They had to fight to be hired by the new company for less total compensation, fewer benefits and actually a loss of any work rules that they had been able to negotiate.
Furthermore, as I mentioned, our members are increasingly facing harassment from customers. They have insufficient training to conduct their jobs to the best of their ability. Employers are really abdicating this responsibility and then blaming workers for their lack of capacity.
Some of these issues need to be solved by employers, but government has an important role to play in increasing standards and supporting safety and security in the industry too.
Some concrete steps that government could take immediately to improve the labour situation at airports include instituting a minimum living wage at airports across the country; implementing full successor rights to ensure workers keep their jobs, pay and collective agreements when a contract is flipped; enhancing oversight of the temporary foreign worker program to ensure employers don't abuse the system and workers are treated fairly; granting migrant workers permanent residency status upon arrival to ensure equal rights and protections for all so that's not being taken advantage of; and helping to lead the development of a solution to the escalating problem of on-the-job harassment. Employers need to take responsibility for the frustration that their business models and technological change introduce into the system and take a stand to ensure that customers know harassment won't be tolerated.
Those are just a few of the solutions that are available that you can make right now.
I look forward to taking your questions.