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Air Canada and Transport Canada prevent CUPE from attending crucial evacuation tests for passenger safety

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 07/04/14 -- Air Canada and Transport Canada collaborated in preventing a CUPE health and safety representative from attending crucial passenger evacuation tests held recently. Air Canada is seeking an exemption to operate with a ratio of one flight attendant for every 50 passenger seats instead of the current regulatory ratio of one flight attendants for every 40 passengers.

"These mandatory evacuation tests must show that the airline can operate safely with fewer flight attendants in order for Transport Canada to grant the exemption. But how can we trust the results of the tests when Air Canada and the federal government stopped the union from participating in the process?" asked Michel Cournoyer, president of CUPE Airline Division. "Who can ensure that test results won't be fixed and that passenger safety will prevail over airline profits? Certainly not Transport Canada and Air Canada on their own," he said

The Air Canada Component of CUPE asked the company for a representative to be present during the evacuation tests. Air Canada refused. The same request was made to Transport Canada and to Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt. CUPE never received an answer.

"Clearly, this new ratio results in a lower level of safety compared to the current standard. If the exemption requested by Air Canada is granted based on tests held behind closed doors, it brings into question the safety and security of both flight attendants and passengers," said Cournoyer. "As the union representing Air Canada flight attendants, CUPE needed to be present to verify that the mandatory tests were conducted properly." Last year, CUPE was present during testing for procedures at Sunwing and denounced Transport Canada for manipulating the tests.

In November 2013, Sunwing tested the reduced flight attendant ratio, and the first three passenger evacuation attempts were not accomplished in the required minimum time. Transport Canada's Inspector, Luc Mayne, then decided that a mandatory oral safety instruction to passengers during evacuations need not be given, allowing the fourth test to pass. Josh Walsh, a health and safety representative for CUPE who was present, shared his concerns with Inspector Mayne about the last minute modification to the standard procedure. Inspector Mayne simply replied: "I know what I'm doing." The exemption allowing one flight attendant to 50 passenger seats has been in effect on Sunwing's flights since Dec. 1, 2013.

In light of Transport Canada's manipulation of the testing procedures at Sunwing, and the dangers that might result for the passengers, CUPE asked the Federal Court to suspend Sunwing's exemption from the current rule of one flight attendant to 40 passengers. Because of the secrecy surrounding the tests held at Air Canada, CUPE may also contest the legality of the process.

Air Transat is seeking a similar exemption and will be conducting passenger evacuation tests in mid-July with CUPE representatives present.

CUPE represents 1,000 flight attendants at Sunwing and more than 10,000 flight attendants employed by Air Canada, Air Transat, Calm Air, Canadian North, Canjet, Cathay Pacific, First Air and Sunwing.

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