Mr. Speaker, today I hope to help hon. members present in the House understand why the Government of Canada is getting involved in the two most recent Air Canada labour disputes that threaten to disrupt air travel. Since the 1980s deregulation of the Canadian airline market, there have been six work stoppages involving Air Canada. History has shown us that these stoppages have taken a significant economic toll and disrupted the lives of Canadians, passengers and business entrepreneurs alike.
Once again we are faced with the possibility of a work stoppage at Air Canada, and once again we face potential economic damage and disruption to Canadians. Parents in my riding of Simcoe—Grey who are away on March break are quite anxious and concerned about this uncertainty and disruption. As the saying goes, those who do not heed the lessons of history may repeat them. At a time when our economic recovery is still fragile, the Government of Canada must act to protect the economy and air services. Up to now, the news about employment in Canada has been encouraging. We have recovered all the jobs that were lost in the recession and created some new ones. Do we really want to take chances with our economy?
The point is that work stoppages can be very costly, especially if they occur in a major industrial player such as Air Canada. They have the potential to cascade down through other sectors, hospitality, food, travel, manufacturing, public relations and marketing. It has been estimated that losses to all sectors of the Canadian economy could easily add up to about $22.4 million a week, for every week a stoppage drags on.
Then there is the impact on jobs. Air Canada is a major employer of almost 26,000 full-time workers across the country. There are also about 250,000 employees indirectly related to Air Canada. There are a lot of employees and their families who would be affected by a work stoppage. A work stoppage involving half of Air Canada's employees, approximately 3,000 pilots and 8,200 machinists, baggage handlers, technicians, mechanics and support workers, for a total of over 11,000 employees, would cause a major disruption and stop air services. The airline risks losing too much money in business transactions and productivity. The elements of the air service system are interdependent. If one element is weakened, they are all affected.
It is no surprise, then, that if jobs are lost at Air Canada, there will be jobs lost at Air Canada's partners and suppliers. According to Transport Canada, over 50% of airport revenues are attributed to Air Canada and its related activities. It stands to reason that any reduced operation at Air Canada will adversely affect Canada's airports and Air Canada's third-party suppliers. Canadian businesses could be impacted again while they are still struggling to shake off the effects of the recent economic downturn.
Why are we here? Surely it would preferable to let Air Canada and its employees, represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, work it out for themselves. Yes, it would, but I ask what happens when the parties in the dispute cannot resolve their issues on their own? What happens when the tentative agreements are rejected by the union members?
What do we do when we have exhausted all the avenues, such as direct negotiations, conciliation and mediation, with no solution in sight? I will tell the House what we do. We do what the Minister of Labour is recommending. We take action. We act on behalf of Canadians and in the best interests of the Canadian economy. We put an end to all the uncertainty and doubt there is right now and ensure continued air services. We bring in legislation, like Bill C-33, an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.
It will soon be one year that the collective agreement of the two unions has expired. Where are we today? On February 22, 8,200 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers voted by a margin of 65.6% to reject the tentative agreement that had been negotiated with Air Canada with the help of a conciliator appointed by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that 78% of those members had voted in favour of a strike. The union advised that it would be intending to begin legal strike action on March 12, 2012. As for the Air Canada Pilots Association, it recommended to its 3,000 members that they reject the most recent offer by Air Canada, and on March 8 Air Canada advised that it intended to legally lock out all of the members on March 12, 2012.
In terms of labour relations, this has been a busy year for Air Canada. Members will recall that in June 2011, Air Canada finalized a four-year collective agreement with its customer sales and service agents, but this happened only after there were three days of labour disruption and the tabling of back to work legislation. In October 2011, Air Canada reached an agreement with its flight attendants, but only after the Minister of Labour referred the matter to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board and the parties agreed to arbitration. However in February there was a bright spot as Air Canada ratified agreements with two CAW-Canada units and the Canadian Airline Dispatchers Association bargaining unit.
The Canada Labour Code recognizes the principles of freedom of association and free collective bargaining. The code gives the parties in labour disputes many ways and opportunities to reach a settlement with or without the help of the federal government.
The Government of Canada respects the rights of unions to strike and the rights of employers to lock out their workers. When a work stoppage could undermine the national economy, Parliament must respond to protect the public interest.
The stakes are even higher today given the fragility of the global economic recovery. Every day of lost business could have an impact on the bottom line of a company that has been struggling to stay solvent for most of the past decade. The viability of a company is important to many people normally served by Air Canada. Some of these customers do not have easy access to an alternative carrier, and even if they get a seat on another airline, they may face long waits or more costs. The lives of hundreds of thousands of frustrated travellers could be disrupted. In fact during this busy March break period, over one million people are scheduled to travel with Air Canada. That is a lot of Canadians and a lot of Canadian families with disrupted or cancelled travel plans.
That is why we need Parliament's support. We have a duty to balance the rights and interests of employers and unions with those of the broader Canadian public. The need for legislation is clearly demonstrated when we consider the needs of 33 million Canadians.
There is really very little to debate here. We must do what is right for all Canadians and the Canadian economy. I am calling on all parties to give the legislation speedy passage so that we can restore peace on the labour front and get back on the road to economic recovery.