[OTTAWA, ON] — Talks between Air Canada and its flight attendants union broke off late Monday without an agreement but Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says she still expects the two sides can get back together and come up with an agreement.
Raitt told CBC television in an interview today that she wasn't surprised that the negotiators had to take a break after hours of intensive talks.
But Raitt said the two sides told her in a meeting on Monday that they were close to a deal and she hopes they can come to terms without the need for federal back-to-work legislation.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees said in a statement that the talks abruptly ended when a spokesperson for Air Canada used an expletive to describe the efforts of the federal mediator and the union representative.
The union added that it hopes to start talks "on a better foot" as early as this morning.
In the meantime, the union plans rallies at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and other locations today.
The flight attendants have threatened to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning if their demands aren't met. CUPE says the attendants will hold rallies in cities across the country Tuesday starting at 10 a.m.
A walkout in June by the airline's customer service agents lasted just three days before a deal was reached under a threat by Raitt that she would legislate them back to work.
NDP Labour critic Yvon Godin said the government is taking away the workers' right to negotiate.
"The strike is even not started yet and she's already telling Canadians in this country under the Conservative government there's no strike," he said.
While the strike by customer service agents slowed operations for the airline in June, Air Canada did not cancel any flights. A strike by the flight attendants would cripple Air Canada. The airline has yet to disclose its contingency plans in the event of a strike, but has said it would operate a partial schedule with the help of its codeshare partners.
Jazz will also continue to operate regional connector service for Air Canada since its flight attendants operate under a separate contract.
Air Canada is allowing travellers who are to booked to fly over the next six days to change their flights free of charge to a later date, subject to availability.
In August, the Air Canada flight attendants resoundingly rejected a tentative deal CUPE negotiated with the airline, forcing the two sides back to the drawing board.
The key areas of dispute are wages, pensions, crew rest, working conditions and work rules.