In a controversial move earlier this summer, the Conservative government altered key provisions of the employment insurance program through the infamous omnibus budget bill C-38. Most notably, the change in legislation would expand what they consider to be “suitable” jobs. In other words, less desirable jobs, due to their location or wage, would have to be taken by those who benefit from EI on a more regular basis or even seasonally. The Conservative government maintains that this proposal seeks to address the paradox of unemployed and underemployed Canadians collecting employment insurance, while Canadian employers hire Temporary Foreign Workers to satisfy acute labour demands.
This backdrop of encouraging Canadians to work in positions often occupied by foreign workers, serves as a stark contrast to recent actions taken by Air Transat who has recently laid off 50 Canadian pilots, and will likely hire foreign pilots later in the year due to seasonal increases in flight demand.
According to Postmedia News journalist Tobi Cohen, hiring foreign pilots is not a novel practice in the airline industry. In fact, companies like Sunwing and CanJet have hired European pilots to complement their regular team of pilots during the peak winter periods. The airlines justify these actions by claiming not enough seasonal Canadian pilots have the necessary “type rating” (aviation jargon for credentials) to fly their particular aircrafts to popular winter destinations like Mexico or Cuba.
Why can’t the airline just train the Canadian pilots and have them earn the requisite type rating? As it turns out, training a pilot on a new airplane can take up to two months and cost up to $50,000, thereby making the training of Canadian seasonal pilots an unviable option.
Moreover, airlines have used the appropriate channels to legally hire foreign pilots. CanJet advertised the seasonal pilot position and failed to receive any adequate responses from Canadians. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada felt these advertising efforts were sufficient to award CanJet a positive labour market opinion which allowed the airline to hire about 35 foreign pilots last year alone. The Postmedia News report suggested the company intends to hire the same amount this year.
For their part, Sunwing was able to legally hire their foreign pilots after being awarded nearly 150 Canada work visas. This arrangement was based on a reciprocity deal which allows foreign pilots to work in Canada in the winter as long as Canadian pilots can work in Europe during the summer. Critics however suggest that Sunwing is not abiding by the agreement as more foreign workers have been finding work in Canada than Canadian pilots have found abroad.
Angered Canadian pilots and opponents of these practices warn of imminent protests if foreign pilots continue to be hired while unemployed Canadian pilots collect EI benefits. Based on the Conservative government’s strong stance on employment insurance, one would expect them to join the Canadian pilots in protest.
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