BY ANDREW DUFFY, OTTAWA CITIZEN
According to the Air Line Pilots Association a foreign workers program is being used by Sunwing and CanJet to bring in foreigners when Canadian pilots could be trained to do the same jobs.
Photograph by: Photodisc , Thinkstock
An Ottawa-based pilots association wants the federal government to ground charter airlines' use of temporary foreign workers to fly Canadians south in the winter. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program allows more than 20,000 babysitters and nannies into Canada every year, along with thousands more cooks, farm workers, musicians, performers, cleaners and truck drivers. It is also used to bring in a smaller number of doctors and IT specialists. An Ottawa-based pilots association wants the federal government to ground charter airlines' use of temporary foreign workers to fly Canadians south in the winter.
The program is designed to address key shortages in the Canadian labour market. But Capt. Dan Adamus, president of the Canada board of the Air Line Pilots Association, said the program is being used by Sunwing and CanJet to bring in foreigners when Canadian pilots could be trained to do the same jobs. He contends that the airlines are using the temporary workers program as a way to avoid paying for pilot training. It costs $20,000 to $40,000 to train a qualified pilot to fly a specific type of large passenger plane. The training, which includes extended sessions on flight simulators, typically takes four to six weeks.
In order to hire foreign pilots, Canadian airlines must show Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) that they've made reasonable efforts to hire or train Canadians for the jobs they want to fill.
Sunwing and CanJet received government approval to hire foreigners after advertising without success in Canada for pilots certified to fly specific planes, usually Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft. Few Canadian pilots are now "type rated" to fly the planes.
Air Canada does not fly the 737NG which means, Adamus said, that few of its 3,000 pilots would qualify for the advertised positions with Sunwing and CanJet.
Mark Williams, president of Sunwing Airlines, said almost all of the foreign pilots brought to Canada for the busy winter season arrive under reciprocal agreements with European airlines. "A reciprocal employment agreement means that Canadian pilots can go over to fly in Europe during the summer season in exchange for Sunwing bringing in foreign pilots in the winter," he said. "This increases year-round employment for Canadian pilots who would otherwise be laid off."
Since the start of Sunwing Airlines, the arrangement has generated more work for Canadian pilots in the summer than for foreign pilots working in Canada in the winter, he said. Launched in November 2005, Sunwing now employs 148 Canadian pilots and is looking to hire an additional 20 to 30 Canadian pilots in the near term, Williams said. Messages left with CanJet officials late last week were not returned Thursday.
Sunwing brings in more than 180 seasonal pilots to fly its popular routes to the Caribbean and other southern destinations. CanJet brings in about 35 foreign pilots for seasonal duty.
Adamus said the charter firms are taking advantage of a federal loophole to reduce costs, not to fill a genuine labour shortage.
It's not known how many Canadian pilots are unemployed, since the union does not track those numbers. But pilot unemployment is only one consideration. Another, Adamus said, is Canada's long-term aviation policy as the world begins to experience the effects of what's projected to be a global pilot shortage.
A recent report by Boeing found that growth in the Asian market will drive demand for pilots during the next 20 years. The Asia-Pacif-ic region alone is projected to require 183,000 new pilots. Only by allowing pilots to move up the ladder, Adamus argued, will Canada create a skilled labour pool that it can draw on in future.
Pilot recruitment has already become more difficult in Canada, he said. It costs about $70,000 to obtain a commercial pilot licence. What's more, young pilots often have to spend years flying small cargo or passenger planes - for modest salaries - before having a chance to graduate to a major airline.
Adamus' concern about foreign pilots is shared by Capt. Paul Strachan, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association. He recently told a Senate committee that Canadian pilots are leaving the country to find work in the Middle East and Asia because of a lack of opportunity at home.