The Canadian government will legislate striking Air Canada staff back to work if management and the Canadian Auto Workers union do not reach contract agreement within 48 hours from Tuesday evening.
The federal government served notice earlier Tuesday that it would ask Parliament “to ensure continuing air service,” Lisa Raitt, federal minister of labor, told the House of Commons.
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“We are concerned by the effect that this strike will have on our economic recovery, which is still fragile, and on Canadians in general,” she said.
Some 3,200 customer service agents and 600 cell center staff went on strike at midnight Tuesday across the country.
The Conservative government has recently been re-elected, this time with a majority in Parliament, holding little doubt that the legislation will pass.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the strike could hit the economy hard. The walkout, he said, “affects the business, it affects the delivery of cargo in Canada and from Canada abroad…This is of economic consequence.”
The CAW called the nationwide strike after last-ditch negotiations failed to produce a new labor contract. They are deadlocked essentially on Air Canada’s intention to introduce a weaker pension system for new employees, lower wages, shorter personal days, and other issues with benefits.
Both sides say they are ready to talk further. Air Canada also is negotiating with pilots and with other union staff, who stand with the CAW on the pensions and pay issue.