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CUPE calls for meeting with Raitt to discuss passenger safety concerns

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 06/11/14 -- The ratio of one flight attendant for every 50 passenger seats proposed by Transport Canada will increase the risk to passengers' safety in an emergency and the Federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt must hear it directly from the union representing over 10, 000 Canadians. Flight attendants care about their passengers' safety and are concerned about the new rules, said CUPE National President Paul Moist in a letter sent to Minister Raitt.

"We reiterate our opposition to the proposed amendments in the strongest possible terms. Any reduction to the number of flight attendants is a serious public safety concern," wrote Moist. "Minister, you have repeatedly justified the change to the 1:50 ratio as a mere matter of harmonizing with current U.S. and European ratios. You fail to explain that in contrast to these jurisdictions, the proposed changes will allow airlines to "flip flop" between the two ratios. This untested regulation would be unique in the world, and raises many serious safety concerns."

"We are urgently requesting a meeting at your earliest possible convenience," added Moist. "It is hardly reasonable to suggest that CUPE, the major representative body for flight attendants and with considerable historical and technical background on aviation safety - does not deserve your immediate attention."

To help the airlines' bottom line, Transport Canada intends to force through the proposed regulatory changes to flight attendant to passenger ratios from 1:40 to 1:50 following a mere one-day public consultation on May 22, 2014. That is not enough. CUPE is calling on the House of Commons' Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to launch a public inquiry of proposed regulatory changes that will leave emergency exits unattended and put airline passengers at risk.

CUPE represents more than 10,000 flight attendants employed by Air Canada, Air Transat, Calm Air, Canadian North, Canjet, Cathay Pacific, First Air and Sun Wing.

Attached is a copy of the letter forwarded by Paul Moist, CUPE National President, to Lisa Raitt, federal Minister of Transport.

Dear Minister Raitt,

I am writing to you as the President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees representing over 627,000 Canadian workers, and the certified bargaining unit for over 10,000 flight attendants working for Air Canada, Air Transat, Calm Air, Canadian North, Canjet, Cathay Pacific, First Air, and Sunwing.

We remain deeply concerned and are opposed to the proposed changes to reduce the flight attendant to passenger ratios from 1:40 to 1:50 presented by CARAC on May 22, 2014.

We continue to take the position, historically upheld by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, that any changes to flight attendant ratios must be subject to highest level of oversight and should not occur without a parliamentary study. We are particularly concerned by the history of secrecy and suppressed information associated with Transport Canada on this issue, most notably a 2003 risk assessment that we believe was neither open, transparent nor participatory.

Successive Transport Ministers and MPs have rejected changes to the ratio since 2001. Moreover, MPs from all parties serving on the Standing Committee on Transport have repeatedly questioned Transport Canada's motives for regulatory changes to the 1:40 requirement, and insisted on a departmental commitment to notify and consult the committee before proceeding with a regulatory change. Yet despite such opposition, Transport Canada seems intent on forcing through the regulation following a mere one-day public consultation conducted by the Canadian Regulatory Advisory Council (CARAC) on May 22, 2014.

On May 22, 2014, over one hundred flight attendants represented by CUPE raised critically important procedural and substantive concerns related to the consultation process and the proposed regulatory changes. Many more who could not attend due to work schedules have forwarded their comments and concerns to us.

Across Canada, flight attendants and community allies urged Transport Canada on May 22 to hold further consultations before making decisions that will seriously impact public safety. As well, two members of the Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities (including the committee vice-chair Hoang Mai) raised serious concerns about the proposed regulatory amendments and lack of scrutiny by parliamentarians. Both members expressed their dismay at not having been informed directly of the consultation, and having only learning about it from concerned flight attendants.

Minister, we reiterate our opposition to the proposed amendments in the strongest possible terms. Any reduction to the number of flight attendants is a serious public safety concern. Indeed, the level of media attention to our comments and concerns can only be taken as proof that the changes are seen as a matter of public interest. Flight attendants are crucial to the safety of all passengers, but in particular more vulnerable groups such as seniors and persons with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, school groups and any other passengers who require extra attention in the event of an emergency. It is widely acknowledged, for example, that a high ratio of flight attendants to passengers was a key factor in the successful evacuation of Air France 358 in 2005. On May 22, representatives from these groups expressed their concerns. We will continue to work with them to bring safety issues forward in a manner that is open and transparent to Canadians.

We do not want another Air France accident to make our point. We believe that the motivation for these changes is to cut labour costs for airlines whose profits are being jeopardized after decades of unfettered deregulation and internal competition. Profits can never be placed before public safety, as the recent Lac Megantic tragedy has once again reminded us.

Minister, you have repeatedly justified the change to the 1:50 ratio as a mere matter of harmonizing with current U.S. and European ratios. You fail to explain that in contrast to these jurisdictions, the proposed changes will allow airlines to "flip flop" between the two ratios. This untested regulation would be unique in the world, and raises serious safety concerns.

For this and numerous other reasons, we are urgently requesting a meeting at your earliest possible convenience. Despite that fact that CARAC represents itself as a consultative body established to consider the opinions of the entire public, it is hardly reasonable to suggest that CUPE, the major representative body for flight attendants and with considerable historical and technical background on aviation safety - does not deserve your immediate attention.

I look forward to your timely response on this urgent issue,

PAUL MOIST, National President

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