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WestJet retreats on labour code exemption that would facilitate mass layoffs

9,000 staff have been laid off during pandemic


OTTAWA — WestJet Airlines says it has halted its push for a labour code exemption that would have facilitated mass layoffs.

WestJet aviation security manager Jared Mikoch-Gerke told the House of Commons health committee Monday the airline had revoked its request for exemption from Canada Labour Code provisions that require 16 weeks’ notice ahead of a mass layoff, which refers to 50 workers or more.

The executive said WestJet has laid off some 9,000 of its 14,000 employees since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The crisis has seen the Calgary-based company park two-thirds of its fleet after border shutdowns and tanking travel demand prompted it to suspend most routes — including all international trips — in late March, though it plans to resume several flights between Canada and the U.S. at the end of the month.

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An Air Canada senior executive said Monday the carrier has not withdrawn its application to the federal labour minister for an exemption, but has received no response so far.

The Montreal-based airline, which has laid off more than 20,000 staff, has joined with other companies from across industries in asking the prime minister and premiers to ease restrictions on international and interprovincial travel.