Sunwing Airlines will suspend operations after 23MAR and all pilots, approximately 470 in total, will be laid off on 8APR. Other cabin crew members will also face layoffs.
“This unprecedented situation has had a drastic impact on our business during a short space of time,” said Mark Williams, President of Sunwing Airlines.
“While we have communicated a temporary suspension of our southbound flights up until 10APR, at this time we cannot confirm when commercial southern flight operations will resume. That is why Sunwing was forced to communicate layoffs to our flight and cabin crew members yesterday (16MAR) evening.”
Williams said these were “incredibly difficult decisions” to make.
“But the circumstances we face are dire and we must take action to ensure the long-term viability of our business. Once we have confirmation on a return to service date of our southbound flights, we fully intend to recall our flight and cabin crew members.”
Sunwing’s parent company, Sunwing Travel Group, describes itself as the largest vertically integrated travel company in North America, with $3-billion in yearly revenue from divisions that include three tour operators and more than 7,000 hotel rooms at vacation resorts in the Caribbean.
On Monday, Sunwing announced that the company was shifting its efforts to focus solely on repatriating customers who are currently in destination. As a result, the carrier temporarily suspended all southbound flights from 17MAR-9APR to concentrate resources on returning customers home.
By the end day 17MAR, Sunwing said over 11,000 customers will have been brought home to Canada, out of approximately 100,000 that were in-destination when new travel restrictions were announced.
Williams says Sunwing will be seeking government assistance.
“Given the severe impact COVID-19 has had on our business, and the efforts we are putting in place to bring thousands of Canadians home, we are actively seeking government support. As an organization, we have never sought government support previously. But these are exceptional circumstances. Our customers need us and we’re doing everything we can to support them.”
Unifor, the union representing Sunwing pilots, says the company’s decision to suspend operations and layoff all pilots is the first major layoff announcement of its kind in the Canadian aviation industry and a direct result of the federal government's COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closure policies.
"We will not accept any situation where workers are left to fend for themselves, not at Sunwing, not anywhere," said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. "That's why we've called on all levels of government to confront this unprecedented pandemic with unprecedented action to protect the livelihoods of workers affected by this crisis."
Unifor says approximately 125 pilots at Sunwing face possible eviction from company-rented residences in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Quebec City.
To address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Unifor has called on the federal government and provincial governments to immediately implement a wide series of measures to protect workers across all industries including:
Establish direct, emergency income assistance measures to all workers and families – including those ineligible for Employment Insurance benefits;
Waive the one-week waiting period for regular Employment Insurance benefits and temporarily eliminate the qualifying hours needed to access benefits;
Place restrictions on any stimulus funding for the aviation industry to ensure funds are directed to support employees rather than executives;
Place a moratorium on all evictions and postpone any and all eviction orders currently in place.
"Our members have mortgages, bills to pay, and children to take care of, and will not be able to make ends meet if there isn't a comprehensive government strategy in place. We will not let our members go without a roof over their heads," said Barret Armann, Unifor Local 7378 President.
"Any bailout package to the industry must come to workers and their families first and include written commitments from the employer that ensures all of our members will return to work once these travel restrictions are lifted."
Unifor has also asked that the federal government develop a long-term solution to support airlines such as Sunwing that will undoubtedly face challenges as service levels normalize once the pandemic is contained.
Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief
An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.
Gwen- March 19, 2020 @ 14:02
Sunwing is laying off all pilots as of April 08