WestJet to lay off 3,000 more employees as demand for service craters


Calgary-based WestJet says a further 3,000 of its workers will be laid off in early May as demand for flights craters amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Sims, the company’s president and CEO, said the airline is currently seeing less than five per cent the number of passengers it was seeing before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“The reality of this crisis continues to require WestJet to make mission-critical decisions to ensure the sustainability of our airline,” Sims said in a release.

“These decisions, while difficult, are being thoughtfully and methodically made so that we can weather this crisis and be ready for a future where we can provide inactive WestJetters with fulfilling employment once again.”

Sims went on to say that WestJet would use the federal government’s wage subsidy to retain workers on its payroll to ensure they remain “connected to the community.”  The airline rehired nearly 6,400 workers with the help of the federal government’s wage subsidy earlier this month.

“We continue to work with our employee and labour groups on ways to maintain employment through the crisis,” Sims said.

Chris Rauenbusch, president of CUPE 4070 — which represents cabin crews at WestJet and Swoop — said the union was aware the moves were on the way and had been working with the company to determine next steps.

“So by being inactive, a flight attendant remains on payroll up to 75 per cent of their wage, paid for through the company but ultimately paid for by the federal government through the [wage subsidy],” Rauenbusch said.

“They will be recalled from layoffs in accordance with seniority when the time comes.”

Suspended flights

WestJet has also suspended transborder and international flights until June 4 and has changed its domestic schedule from May 5 to June 4, cutting 600 flights including some routes between Canadian cities.

On Tuesday, Air Canada said service to the United States would be suspended for another 30 days because of the pandemic. Air Canada has cancelled most international flights until June. Air Transat and Sunwing Airlines have also cancelled all trips until at least May 31.

The decisions extended the suspension of more than 160 Air Canada routes and Air Transat and Sunwing trips by another month.

WestJet had about 14,000 employees before the COVID-19 outbreak, laying off about half of the company’s workforce in late March. The airline sent layoff notices to 1,700 pilots earlier this month.

WestJet and other airlines offer two-year vouchers for trips they’ve cancelled, but advocates have said that travellers should be entitled to refunds for flight services paid for but not received.

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