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Raitt expects deal between Air Canada and union, despite talks breaking down

An Air Canada flight crew walks past an aircraft in Montreal.

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Talks between Air Canada and its flight attendants' union broke down late Monday, but Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Tuesday she expects the two sides to get back together and come up with a collective agreement.

Ms. Raitt told CBC television in an interview that she wasn't surprised that the negotiators had to take a break after hours of intensive talks that began early Sunday.

But Ms. Raitt said the two sides told her in a meeting on Monday that they were close to a deal and she hopes they can come to terms without the need for federal back-to-work legislation.

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"When I met with them yesterday, they indicated they were very close to a deal, that they would be able to push through the last little bit and they would find a solution and a collective agreement," Ms. Raitt said.

"It's in their hands to reach a deal. They indicated they were able to reach a deal, so that's my expectation."

The Canadian Union of Public Employees said in a statement that the talks abruptly ended when a spokesperson for Air Canada used an expletive to describe the efforts of the federal mediator and the union representative.

The union added that it hopes to start talks "on a better foot" as early as Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, the union plans rallies at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and other locations Tuesday.

The flight attendants have threatened to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning if their demands aren't met. CUPE says the attendants will hold rallies in cities across the country Tuesday starting at 10 a.m.

A walkout in June by the airline's customer service agents lasted just three days before a deal was reached under a threat by Ms. Raitt that she would legislate them back to work.

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NDP Labour critic Yvon Godin said the government is taking away the workers' right to negotiate.

"The strike is even not started yet and she's already telling Canadians in this country under the Conservative government there's no strike," he said.

Ms. Raitt told CBC TV she expects a vigorous opposition from the New Democrats and other parties if back-to-work legislation is introduced in the Commons.

"But from our perspective, the government gets engaged when we see that there's going to be an nationally significant effect either on the economy or on the general public."

While the strike by customer service agents slowed operations for the airline in June, Air Canada did not cancel any flights. A strike by the flight attendants would cripple Air Canada. The airline has yet to disclose its contingency plans in the event of a strike, but has said it would operate a partial schedule with the help of its codeshare partners.

Jazz will also continue to operate regional connector service for Air Canada since its flight attendants operate under a separate contract.

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Air Canada is allowing travellers who are to booked to fly over the next six days to change their flights free of charge to a later date, subject to availability.

In August, the Air Canada flight attendants resoundingly rejected a tentative deal CUPE negotiated with the airline, forcing the two sides back to the drawing board.

The key areas of dispute are wages, pensions, crew rest, working conditions and work rules.

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