Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Air Canada plans hiring spree

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AIR Canada plans to hire about 1,100 employees, including 200 at its new low-cost carrier, as the airline moves ahead with growth plans following a spate of labour conflicts with its major unions.

The airline, which currently employs some 27,000 people worldwide, said Thursday the jobs are part of its strategy to "seize new commercial opportunities, enhance customer service and renew our workforce."

Air Canada said it will hire approximately 400 flight attendants and some 500 airport customer-service agents and baggage handlers. Sixty customer service agents will be hired for call centres in Montreal and Toronto.

The company -- which has been beset by labour problems that have hurt both its reputation and its share price -- cited attrition as one of the main drivers behind the hiring of customer service agents and flight attendants.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said he didn't have an exact number of employees lost through attrition or departures through retirement and career changes. But the number of hires is carefully calculated to replace those employees and augment the workforce while keeping costs low, he said.

In addition to those leaving for other reasons, the company is offering voluntary separation packages, or buyouts, which would usher out an unspecified number of highly paid employees.

They'll be replaced with new hires, who will make lower wages and take a hybrid pension plan -- agreed upon in the latest collective agreements -- that is less burdensome for the company.

"With our new labour contracts, there's a new pension program for new hires as well," Fitzpatrick said.

"We are a heavily unionized workforce and the people that are leaving tend to be senior and the ones coming in will be (lower on the pay scale)... so there will be some savings there."

Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu said its new recruitment program is "consistent with our focus on controlling costs to become more competitive in our various markets."

"At a time when youth unemployment is nearly 15 per cent in Canada, we are pleased to offer exciting career opportunities that will especially appeal to young people."

In addition to the hires at the main airline, the company will hire approximately 150 flight attendants and 50 pilots for its low-cost airline, which is slated to launch in 2013, officials said.

Air Canada pilots said during labour negotiations earlier this year the airline's launch of a low-cost carrier could threaten their job security and working conditions. In the end, a federal arbitrator chose Air Canada's final offer, which included provisions allowing the airline to create a budget carrier.

The Air Canada Pilots Association noted Thursday "the provisions of the contract imposed by federal arbitration contain a lower pay scale for pilots who fly for the (low-cost carrier)."

On Wednesday, Air Canada said it's just a couple of weeks away from announcing details of the new discount carrier that will serve transatlantic and leisure routes in the Caribbean and the United States.

Information on the job postings can be found at aircanada.com/careers.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2012 B6

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