Canada's WestJet cancels 150 flights impacting 20,000 passengers


Aircraft maintenance engineers and other technical staff at Canada's WestJet Airlines went on strike at the start of a long weekend on Friday, after rounds of negotiations failed to produce an agreement on pay and working conditions.

WestJet expressed outrage at the strike during the Canada Day weekend, saying it would hold the union "100 per cent accountable for the unnecessary stress and costs incurred as a result."

Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan, seeking to avert the strike, had intervened on Thursday after WestJet began canceling flights, ordering Canada's industrial relations board to impose final binding arbitration in the dispute.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) defended the strike in a statement on Friday, saying O'Regan's order was silent on "employees' fundamental right to strike," as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The union said it had served a strike notice on June 18 after 97 per cent of its members voted to reject a tentative pay deal reached in May but that negotiators returned to the bargaining table two days later.

That round also failed, and the union served a second strike notice, with employees walking off the job in the morning, AMFA said.

Calgary-based WestJet, which is backed by Onex Corp and competes with Air Canada, said it was canceling 150 flights for Saturday due to the strike, impacting about 20,000 passengers.

"Additional cancellations are anticipated by Saturday morning if the strike is not called off or intervention does not happen immediately", it said.

The airline said it was actively pursuing measures to minimise flight disruption, including asking for immediate action by the Canadian government.

The union said the airline had told it that it would not engage in further collective bargaining in Toronto, citing the government-imposed arbitration. The airline also rejected a request for continuation of collective bargaining in Calgary next week, the union said.

It said its bargaining committee was standing by to continue discussions with the airline and was available to resume collective bargaining over the weekend and into next week.

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