Air Transportation Workers’ Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Airport screen showing cancelled flights

Our working conditions are your travel conditions

Travel chaos has wreaked havoc on workers and passengers around the world. In Canada, travellers are continuously forced to deal with delays and cancellations, overbooking and long-wait times for customer service.

The government’s solutions to the chaos have included tinkering with the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, dubbed the “passenger bill of rights”, by imposing higher fines, making airlines give refunds, provide access to food, water and hotels when required, and additional communication from airlines when flights are delayed or cancelled. 

Fines and refunds are not a consolation prize for cancelled vacations, delayed visits with family and friends or missed business meetings. 

Airport authorities can do more to ensure airports and aviation workplaces offer better and safer working conditions.

While the government would like to ensure human rights are not trampled on when cancellations and overbooking occur, it still leaves the airlines to boost customer service standards or correct poor business practices. Without the airlines taking greater responsibility customers will continue to be frustrated and workers severely under-resourced. 

Here’s the problem.

Employers in the industry do not provide workers with the tools, training, or enough staff to do the work effectively. 

The Air Passenger Protection Regulations don’t match customer expectations nor effectively prevent cancellations and overbooking. Current rules are insufficient to properly minimize delays, lost baggage, and general chaos. 

What’s required is a revamp of how the industry treats workers and values all stages of service, including checking in luggage, ground handling, customer service in the terminal, onboard services, piloting and traffic control.

The solution for ending the chaos must go beyond fines and refunds. Government and industry need to be proactive, not reactive.

Fulfilling the Air Passenger Protection Regulations and providing a hassle-free travel experience requires more workers and higher job quality in all segments of the industry. Industry won't do this of its own free will. The federal government must take the lead and force industry and Canada's airports to clean up their act.

Air Transportation Workers’ Charter

Unifor’s Air Transportation Workers’ Charter of Rights and Freedoms articulates key rights that should form the cornerstone of a renewed and efficient airline sector. 

Fair Wages: Across the board, workers at all pay levels are struggling to keep pace both with the rising cost-of-living and with their peers in other regions. Employers must make the living wage the minimum start wage for all, and no matter the job classification, workers deserve fair pay.

Safe reporting: The air transportation industry is a complex web of corporations and diverse jobs working together to put planes in the air safely and bring them back to the ground. Workers are often the best placed to see problems and suggest solutions—but there should be more safe and effective reporting mechanisms for workers or their representatives to guarantee they will be heard. 

Protection from contracting out: Significant contracting out and contract flipping has entrenched low-pay and subpar working conditions that, in turn, lead to lower quality service. The Canada Labour Code should be amended to guarantee Full Successor Rights. Furthermore, the industry must both 1) Limit the number of ground handling companies to three at each airport in order to eliminate the constant rotation of providers and 2) Require airports and airlines to in-source work, moving service back with the original service provider.

Address work intensification: Passenger time spent in lines, on hold or on the tarmac are the direct result of employer decisions to under-hire and under-train while choosing to rely on over-time, short shifting or unacceptable workloads. The requirements of the government’s passenger bill of rights cannot be delivered effectively without sufficient staffing, so the APPR must be expanded to ensure enough staff are employed and scheduled to perform the required work.  

High-quality training: Employers have largely moved to an online training model without any on-the-job training. Few new hires are trained to handle more than the most basic questions, which means customers are forced to stand in long lines or remain on hold for hours to reach an agent who has the proper training. Trainees with learning differences do not have options to learn in ways that are most appropriate for them. Some employers are relying on an apprenticeship ratio that puts undo pressure on certified professionals. In the case of aircraft maintenance engineers, for example, overwork could compromise safety. 

Harassment-free environment: Situations evoking the passenger bill of rights are generally unpleasant, which escalates incidence customer anger, which leads to harassment of airline staff– in person, on the phone and online. The federal government and aviation industry need to develop solutions to the growing problem of harassment, including a no tolerance policy with real consequences for violations. Workers need to know their employers will intervene and support them when harassment takes place and actively work to prevent and diffuse situations that cause frustration. 

Fair scheduling: To make ends meet, a significant share of workers employed by airlines and contracting companies at the airport work multiple part-time jobs with unpredictable hours. It is common practice under some employers to extend a worker’s shift without notice. Fair and predictable scheduling with a focus on maximizing full-time work must be a priority.  

Healthy and safe workplaces: Workers cannot deliver a healthy and safe travel experience without a healthy and safe working environment. Expanding fatigue management rules, ensuring adequate time to train new staff, providing proper and effective safety equipment, and preventing harassment are all examples of pro-active change the government and industry can oversee. 

A say in technological change: Workers deserve to be notified and have input in technological change that affects their work or working conditions. This includes surveillance, algorithmic management, artificial intelligence, biometrics, touch-free technology and much more. Many employers entirely neglect to speak with workers about the work they are trying to replicate, augment or replace with new technology. This leads to poorly designed systems that don’t meet customer needs and end up creating more work. Workers must be confident that the data their employers collect is protected and won’t be unduly used against them. Technology needs to be kept in a state of good repair and upgraded when needed.

Employers’ perceptions of the value of the work in air transportation have changed dramatically. Jobs in the industry used to be career-making, family supporting jobs. However, the last 30 years of deregulation, workplace fissuring, and wage suppression have eroded job quality and cheapened the career path for many workers. 

This trend must be reversed. An improvement to working conditions will have a direct and positive impact on travel conditions.

Our working conditions determine your travel conditions.