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Air Canada disputes flight attendants' view of pay

As flight attendants prepare to rally Friday on Parliament Hill, Air Canada is painting a picture that it says shows a generous compensation system for its cabin crew.

The carrier's full-time flight attendants put in an average of 84.7 flying hours and enjoyed 18.5 days off each month last year, according to Air Canada's internal data. The employees averaged 33 paid days of vacation last year, including statutory holidays, and they used 10 of their 12 annual sick days, the airline said in its "fact sheet on compensation, benefits and working conditions."

About 83 per cent of the cabin crew had pay packets that exceeded $56,000, including allowances, premiums and commissions, Air Canada said.

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The information is being released to counter a campaign by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents Air Canada's 6,800 flight attendants. CUPE members will protest in Ottawa on Friday to show their outrage at federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt's intervention last week, when she referred the labour impasse to the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Flight attendants complain that her tactics have stripped away their right to strike.

Daniela Scarpelli, a CUPE national representative, disputed management's portrayal of Air Canada flight attendants receiving industry-leading compensation and getting ample days off.

"Instead of negotiating with Air Canada flight attendants, Air Canada seems content to distort the truth and hide behind a government that has obstructed flight attendants' right to free and open collective bargaining," she said in a statement, adding that "almost half the work that flight attendants do is unpaid" and they incur travel expenses.

But Air Canada said the union's "extreme" example of new hires earning $18,000 a year is misleading because that's based on 65 flying hours a month. After adding in a variety of allowances and premiums, new flight attendants garner an average of $24,474 in their first year, the airline said.

Air Canada submits that the base salary last year averaged $47,554 for full-time attendants, who also received $9,502 in other compensation to bring the subtotal to $57,056. Adding another $2,125 in incentive rewards and $14,039 in health and pension benefits, the total came to $73,220 last year.

"Only 4 per cent of Air Canada flight attendants have less than four years' experience," said the carrier, noting that the pay scale starts at $22.99 an hour and tops out at $48.27 an hour in the 10th year of service. "Consistent with industry practice, flight attendants' base salary is calculated using hours flown."

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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