Adrienne Silnicki, CUPE National’s airlines researcher, looks at how ultra low-cost carriers have impacted airline workers and passengers around the world.
We’re about to experience a surge in ultra low-cost carriers (ULCC) in Canada, as up to four new carriers including WestJet’s Swoop plan to start flying in the next year.
Changes to federal law under Bill C-49 will double the amount of money foreign investors can put into airline carriers – and while the federal government says it will mean more low-cost carriers, this could be bad news for airline workers and passengers too.
ULCCs profit off the backs of workers
The only way for ULCCs to be successful is to minimize labour costs and expand workers’ tasks. For flight attendants at ULCCs, that has meant lower wages, few benefits, no pension, and expanded work portfolios. For example, when VirginBlue launched in Australia, flight attendants and ground crew were interchangeable – meaning they were trained and responsible for anything from making reservations to cleaning aircraft to handling freight and aircraft equipment.
ULCCs impact workers at mainlines too
To compete with ULCCs, full service carriers make changes that impact their workers too. When RyanAir launched, Aer Lingus cut staff payments by 21 per cent. Ansett was forced to shut down after 66 years in business following the launch of Impulse (now JetStar) in Australia.
For many carriers-within-a-carrier like JetStar (part of Qantas) or Swoop (part of WestJet), there are legitimate concerns that the ULCC will be used to contract out the work of higher paid employees of the full service carrier – resulting in less work and lower pay.
ULCCs impact passengers too
While the idea of lower airfares is exciting to passengers, they usually end up paying the difference through non-advertised fees and drastically reduced onboard comforts.
A race to the bottom
Ultra low-cost carriers are not coming to Canada to improve our flying experience. They’re here to make money through diminished working conditions for airline workers and flying experiences for passengers. They will force mainline airlines like WestJet to fly fewer routes, offer fewer services, and decrease staff wages and benefits to remain competitive.
As the launch of Swoop approaches, it’s more important now than ever that WestJetters get the union representation they need and deserve to protect and improve their wages, benefits, and working conditions.