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Air Canada turns back on conciliation, pilots’ union says

The Air Canada Pilots Association says management of the airline has abandoned federal conciliation in a move that opens the door for Ottawa to intervene in a protracted labour dispute.

Captain Paul Strachan, president of the 3,000-member union, said the country's largest airline no longer wants to negotiate a new collective agreement with the help of a conciliator, even though ACPA offered to extend the process.

"Air Canada is manufacturing a crisis and looking awfully a lot like a party that isn't really interested in bargaining at all," he said in an interview Tuesday.

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Amid friction at the bargaining table, ACPA will be in a position to take a strike vote in February, though Capt. Strachan emphasized that no decision has been made on the timing of such balloting. The previous contract expired March 31.

Pilots made heavy sacrifices during Air Canada's restructuring in 2003-04, and have yet to recover, with wages lower than they were 10 years ago, he said.

Air Canada flatly rejected the union's characterization that talks have stalled, saying management is awaiting ACPA's response to the company's proposals tabled on Jan. 16.

"Air Canada has been in negotiations with ACPA since October, 2010," the Montreal-based carrier said. "Following two separate extensions to the conciliation timeline, the negotiation process is advancing to mediation, as permitted by the Canada Labour Code. In this phase, the conciliator will assume the role of mediator and will continue to oversee the process to bring to conclusion the talks started in late 2010."

Last May, about 67 per cent of the pilots who voted rejected a proposed contract for the union, casting uncertainty over the airline's proposals for starting a low-cost carrier and introducing pension reforms.

Management's goal under a new labour contract is to pay lower wages at the discount leisure unit in order to compete against rivals flying to vacation destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe. Air Canada also wants to place new hires on defined-contribution pension plans, which don't provide a guaranteed level of payout upon retirement.

Last June, Air Canada's 3,800 sales and service agents staged a three-day strike, before agreeing to a contract. The Canadian Auto Workers union reached the deal hours after Ottawa debated back-to-work legislation.

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In October, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents Air Canada flight attendants, cancelled a planned walkout after a move by federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt effectively rendered any threatened strike illegal.

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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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