Labour Minister called in as airport chaos looms

TORONTO, Feb. 2, 2012 /CNW/ - Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has been called in to help avert chaos for airline passengers amid a dispute over the mass layoff of security screening officers at Toronto's Pearson and Island Airports.

Minister Raitt has been asked by the union representing security screening officers to step in after a series of labour law violations by Garda Security Screening Inc., a for-profit contractor that is reducing security staffing levels by a staggering 20%.

The massive reduction in staffing is already starting to cause backlogs at security for airline passengers at the country's busiest airport and threatens major delays in the coming weeks for travellers.

The Canadian Airport Workers Union (CAWU) said the labour law violations were further worsening tensions at Pearson after the country's airline industry was hit by series of turbulent disputes in recent months.

CAWU said Garda violated a number of key sections of the Canada Labour Code in its bungled attempts to ram through the cuts and boost profits at the expense of passengers and frontline officers.

Garda failed to fulfill its obligation to notify the Minister of the mass layoffs. It failed to provide the minimum 16-weeks notice required by law when it suddenly announced the deep cuts to staffing levels on January 10 - giving only 15-days notice, and it failed to follow the steps required when planning group layoffs.

"Garda has failed to comply with its obligations under the Canada Labour Code," said Denis W. Ellickson, solicitor for CAWU.

"We had no choice but to request the intervention of Minister Raitt to address these violations," added the spokesperson for the union that represents security screening officers.

"CAWU is seeking a fair and reasonable solution that will ensure safe and hassle-free travel for passengers. Companies entrusted with public security should not be recklessly breaking the law of the land," he said.

The steep reduction in staffing levels will hurt passengers who pay a hidden fee for security screening of $7.48 for a one-way domestic flight and up to $25.91 for an international flight. Garda is making the cuts even though passenger traffic rose 5.5 per cent in the first nine months of 2011 at Pearson.

New Democrat MP Olivia Chow has warned forcing fewer screeners to handle more passengers would mean trouble, and lead to longer waits, longer line-ups, or compromised security.

SOURCE Canadian Airport Workers Union

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