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Simmering unrest among Air Canada's (AC.B-T) workers boiled over on Friday, after ground staff at the airline went on a wildcat strike that created travel chaos in both Montreal and Toronto.
Several ground workers walked off the job Thursday night after three Air Canada employees were suspended for a mocking "slow-clap" intended for Labour Minister Lisa Raitt. On Friday morning an arbitrator reached a deal with Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union.
The disruption is the latest example of the labour problems facing the embattled airline. The federal government has intervened to prevent work stoppages between Air Canada and its unions four times over the past year.
"What we're seeing are the unintended consequences of preemptive government intervention in the free collective bargaining process," says George Smith, Fellow at the School of Industrial Relations at Queen's University and a former director of employee relations at Air Canada. "These workers are reacting emotionally to the reality that their freedoms and rights have been violated by this government backed preemptive back-to-work legislation."
"The irony is that in trying to create certainty and legislate certainty, the Ministry of Labour has actually the opposite effect."
Smith says that by continually intervening in the company's labour disputes, the government is preventing the airline and its workers from resolving their differences.
"Air Canada faces some huge legacy issues and they have to sort those issues out with their employees, they have to find a solution that's good for everyone because the union and the employees need the company to be successful."