For years, airlines like Sunwing and CanJet have looked to Europe to bolster their Canadian operations in winter, arguing Canadian pilots don’t have the requisite “type rating” or credentials to fly their particular airplanes to sun destinations like Cuba and Mexico. With winter just around the corner and news this week that 50 Air Transat pilots are facing layoffs, aviators are again raising concerns about charters that hire foreign workers to swoop in for the busy sun destination season at the expense of unemployed Canadian pilots.While Citizenship and Immigration Canada quietly altered the guidelines for officers vetting visa requests in June, pilots say the changes fall short of addressing all the issues. The guidelines are meant to help visa officers assess whether foreign worker exchanges are being done fairly.Pilots are also concerned about the proliferation of “wet leasing,” whereby Canadian companies lease foreign aircraft, crew and all. Traditionally used as a backstop when a company’s own planes are temporarily grounded for repairs, pilots say companies are now doing it to boost their fleets, all the while circumventing visa requirements and pilot exchange provisions.“We feel quite uncomfortable with the situation,” said Alain Chabot, a 49-year-old Air Transat pilot who was told he’d be laid off this fall when the company gets rid of three aircraft. “It’s a little bit difficult for us to understand that they are asking for foreign pilots to come to Canada when there are plenty of pilots qualified in Canada that are ready to take over those jobs.”For years, companies like Sunwing and CanJet have looked to Europe to bolster their Canadian operations in winter, arguing Canadian pilots don’t have the requisite “type rating” or credentials to fly their particular airplanes to sun destinations like Cuba and Mexico.It can take as long as two months and cost up to $50,000 to train a pilot on a new aircraft, and while airlines generally pick up the tab for full-time hires, it’s considered a huge burden to do so for seasonal workers.After its Canadian ad campaign failed to turn up any qualified candidates, CanJet received a positive labour market opinion from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada last year to hire about 35 foreign pilots. The company expects to do the same this year.Meanwhile, Sunwing obtained about 150 visas for foreign pilots last year through a reciprocity deal that allows foreigners to work in Canada in the winter so long as Canadian pilots have the opportunity to work in Europe in the summer.Citizenship and Immigration figures obtained by Postmedia News suggest some 395 foreign pilots and flight engineers received work permits last year. About 224 were issued for seasonal work under the reciprocal work exemption.But Gilles Hudicourt, a 14-year Air Transat veteran behind a petition last May that urged the government to “review the principle” of allowing charters to hire foreign workers, has some concerns.He argues CanJet is being cheap and manipulative, while Sunwing is failing to abide by the rules of reciprocity as more foreigners are finding seasonal work in Canada than the other way around. Furthermore, he argues Sunwing has wet leased some of its aircraft and crew to Europe in the summer and is unfairly counting those pilots — still under the operational control of Sunwing and not technically employed abroad — towards fulfilment of its pilot exchange agreement.Both Sunwing and WestJet, he added, also import foreign aircraft and crew on wet leases, which is again taking jobs away from Canadians.“There is no shortage of qualified pilots in Canada and the ruses which some airlines use to obtain a (labour market opinion) ... in order to secure work permits for foreign pilots is nothing short of dishonest,” he said.“Now that we’re going to have pilots laid off and on UI, if we see any significant number of pilots come to Canada to work on Canadian airplanes, we’re going to mount protests and we hope it’s going to carry a lot of weight because you can’t have Canadian pilots collecting unemployment insurance while the government hands out work visas to foreign pilots who come and take their jobs.”He argued the revised Citizenship and Immigration Canada guidelines seem to open the door to allowing wet leases to be counted toward reciprocity agreements, though he welcomed changes that call on officers to collect evidence of the number of Canadians employed abroad rather than just rely on a company’s word. He also welcomed changes that seek to ensure that for every four foreign workers employed in Canada, at least three Canadians are employed in Europe.Meanwhile, airlines deny they are doing anything wrong or immoral.“At CanJet we have a requirement for seasonal workers and if there were any Canadian pilots qualified on a 737-800 that want to work part time during the winter period from mid-November to end of April, I would hire them tomorrow,” company president Stephen Rowe said.“It’s simple as that really.”Rowe said he can’t afford to train temporary employees, only to lay them off months later so they could find work elsewhere and not be available to him again the following year.With 119 full time Canadian pilots on payroll and a need for just 70 between May and November, he argues he already employs his “fair share of Canadian full-time pilots.”Sunwing president Mark Williams said his company has moved to address the issue. This year Sunwing has hired 15 additional Canadian pilots and upgraded 30 to captain from first officer. The company is also hiring 20 seasonal first officers and paying for their “type rating” at a cost of about $800,000 even though they’ll be cut loose in the summer.“Sunwing is not the reason that other Canadian pilots are unemployed,” he said, noting the company will still have to bring in about 130 foreign pilots this winter.He admits the company has sent fewer Canadians to work in Europe during the summer in recent years, but that over the entire seven years Sunwing’s been in business, the reverse is true.“That’s something that seems to be a misconception that I would really like to clear up,” he said.As for counting wet lease pilots towards fulfilling its reciprocity obligations, he sees nothing wrong with that, noting “the most important thing is we are creating work for Canadians overseas.”Source: tcohe, postmedia
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