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Bill passes to send Air Canada labour disputes to binding arbitration

An Air Canada aircraft is unloaded at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Enfield, N.S. on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.

Andrew Vaughan/Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Federal politicians worked late into the night to debate a back-to-work bill to send a pair of Air Canada labour disputes to binding arbitration in order to keep the airline flying.

Bill C-33, which passed 155-124 at about 1:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, covers about 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground crew at Air Canada and about 3,000 pilots.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt had proposed the back-to-work legislation on Monday, saying a work stoppage at Air Canada was something the country could not afford. The government had invoked closure on Tuesday afternoon, setting up the final vote in the House of Commons.

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But the union representing the mechanics and other workers said Tuesday that the decision to impose arbitration on its talks with the airline eroded labour rights.

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers executive Dave Ritchie said the bill would "poison labour relations across Canada."

Under the "final offer selection" arbitration process, the union and airline will both put forward their best offer and an arbitrator will select one.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Conservatives are expected to use their majority for speedy passage. The legislation could receive royal asset before the end of the week.

The pilots' union and the machinists are the last two groups with which Air Canada needs to reach an agreement.

Flights at Air Canada were set to stop this week after the airline said it would lock out its pilots and the machinists union said it would strike in the midst of the key March Break period.

However Ms. Raitt stepped in and blocked a work stoppage by referring the matter to the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

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Last September, the airline reached a deal with its flight attendants after a strike vote prompted Ms. Raitt to intervene.

And a walkout by the airline's customer service agents represented by the Canadian Auto Workers lasted just three days last year after Ms. Raitt threatened a back-to-work bill.

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