COVID-19 support for airlines to exceed $ 7 billion: Unifor president

OTTAWA – Unifor President Jerry Dias has said the long-awaited support program for airlines facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic will exceed the original target of $ 7 billion.

Dias, who has been at the heart of the negotiations, told CTV News Channel’s Power Play Thursday that while some form of government support – bailout or loan – is still being negotiated with the airlines, the proposed amount has increased with information that some airlines reimburse their customers for unused tickets.

“It was originally $ 7 billion industry-wide over 10 years at one percent interest, that was quite a long time ago. Of course, now we’re dealing with regional issues. and of course we’re dealing with customer reimbursement, so I would now expect the $ 7 billion to be the floor, not the ceiling, “he said.

The federal government has made it clear that its support is contingent on reimbursing passengers for tickets rendered unnecessary as a result of the cancellation of flights and the application of national restrictions on international travel.

Dias told Power Play host Evan Solomon that there was “no doubt” that Air Canada would accept the deal for his support.

“They are smart enough to know that there will be no help from the federal government unless they deal with the political elephant in the room which is exactly that,” Dias said.

In a statement to CTV News, Air Canada said “there is nothing new to report” since it released its quarterly results on February 12, when the company said it was encouraged by the progress of discussions with the government but no agreement had yet been reached.

Then-general manager Calin Rovinescu said in November that Air Canada would not hesitate to reimburse customers stranded with unused tickets if the terms of a federal bailout were reasonable.

In February, the airline announced it was cutting 1,500 other jobs and suspending several US and international routes. The month before it cut about 1,700 jobs. In total, the company has lost more than half of its workforce since last March.

WestJet, also facing job losses and the suspension of routes, told CTV News that there was “nothing new” to report at this time regarding negotiations with the federal government.

“WestJet continues to operate with a reduction of over 90% year over year. Given the economic realities created by quarantines and extended restrictions, we advocate for the prioritization of a domestic travel plan and a transparent policy to ensure the safe restart of travel. With widespread vaccine distribution months away, testing must be a priority for the Government of Canada and the relationship between testing and quarantine must evolve based on data and science, ”a statement said.

Also on Power Play Thursday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said conversations with the industry were “ongoing” and “constructive.”

LeBlanc reinforced the government’s demand that carriers also maintain regional routes and protect jobs, rather than seeing financial aid tied to executive bonuses.

“Obviously, the leaders of these companies would also have an obligation to be transparent,” he said. “We have said as a government that having a competitive, reliable and accessible air transport system is essential to the country’s economic recovery.”

As of the end of May, airlines around the world had received $ 123 billion in aid, much of it in the form of loans, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Canada distributed over $ 1.7 billion to the aviation industry through the federal wage subsidy, but avoided sector support – the only G7 country to do so.

On February 22, the mandatory quarantine of government hotels went into effect, requiring all travelers returning to Canada after traveling abroad to stay at a designated hotel for at least three days, at their own expense, while waiting. a PCR test carried out on their arrival.

The government, along with the airlines, has also cut back on travel to sunny destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean in an effort to thwart the jet set.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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