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WestJet pilots file labour complaint over hiring at new budget airline

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The union representing pilots at WestJet Airlines Ltd said on Friday it filed a labour complaint against Canada's no 2 commercial airline, adding tensions to talks over their first contract.

[MONTREAL] The union representing pilots at WestJet Airlines Ltd said on Friday it filed a labour complaint against Canada's no 2 commercial airline, adding tensions to talks over their first contract.

The Air Line Pilots Association (Alpa) said it filed an unfair labour practice with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) against WestJet for bypassing the union during hiring at the airline's new ultra-low-cost carrier Swoop, among other issues.

Analysts have raised concerns about the pilots' recent decision to unionise, at a time when WestJet was adding international flights and launching Swoop as a separate carrier.

Swoop, which will charge a base ticket price that covers a seat and a small personal item, faces a cost disadvantage against US budget airlines because of high Canadian airport fees and taxes.

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Alpa says a key issue in the dispute is whether the pilots who work for the new no-frills carrier should earn the same rates as the men and women who fly WestJet planes, with the union arguing they should all have the same contract.

"Our pilots do not take issue with Swoop," said Rob McFadyen, chairman of WestJet's Alpa Master Executive Council in a phone interview.

"Our pilots will gladly fly Swoop planes as WestJet pilots."

WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart declined to comment on Friday, but the Calgary-based carrier recently said it was offering leaves of absence for pilots who wanted to work for Swoop. WestJet has filed its own complaint to the labor board against the pilots and has accused the union of trying to prevent pilots from flying for Swoop.

During a recent call with analysts, WestJet chief executive officer Gregg Saretsky said the carrier estimated it needs around 200 captains to staff Swoop's planned fleet of 40 aircraft. The company said it would prefer to hire the majority of the pilots from its existing WestJet pilot list.

Alpa said it hopes to get a CIRB ruling in the coming weeks, to stop WestJet from allowing pilots to take leaves of absences to join Swoop.

REUTERS

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