This report was presented by Carlos Dacosta at the District 140 Convention in Halifax in October 2018
In the past 12 years, I’ve had the privilege of assisting Locals and DL 140 by providing information and guidance in dealing with issues within the air transport sector. Here are some highlights for the past year:
Air Transport Industry:
In the past decade transportation has been making gradual changes and yet it still continues to be affected by situations beyond our control. Events such as SARS, drastic economic collapses, and major terrorist attacks, are some of the examples we have all seen. But there are other events that we should be aware of so that we can effectively represent our members while bargaining new agreements or in preparing new organizing plans.
Let’s start off with the global population, which is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050 with half the growth in 2050 coming from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, India, Pakistan, and the United States. It is obvious that the growth of middle classes in China and Asia-Pacific, with their spending power will impact transportation.
In Canada, passenger levels continue to climb at a rate of about 2.5 to 3.5% per year in Canada, accident rates continue to remain low as a result of a mature aviation industry and the use of newer technology being introduced on aircraft built. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that 7.2 billion passengers will travel in 2035, a near doubling of the 3.8 Billion travellers in 2016.
Canada’s airlines will continue to increase efforts to gain market share domestically and internationally. Air Canada with its new low-cost carrier (LCC) Rouge competes with Westjet and Encore its LCC subsidiary, along with Porter, Sunwing and Air Transat. Moreover, the competition between Air Canada, Air Transat and non-Canadian airlines for international travellers will increase year after year.
Canada’s economy is still suffering due to the slowdown in global economic growth as seen in Stats Canada although the employment numbers have started to increase slowly. Manufacturing has slightly improved but not as predicted especially in Ontario, Quebec and BC. The NAFTA negotiations continue to attract fear into Canadians, especially with the newly elected President in the USA.
Although employment growth has been slow to improve, the unemployment rate still remains very high for the youth in Canada.
Look at the Future of Air Transport:
In the future, high-speed trains are likely to take business away from airlines over shorter distances, and we have already heard those discussions taking place in Canada. Some of the new tech¬nologies, when proven viable will be put in place in Canada or further expand in our world, providing faster connections over longer distances (e.g. Hyperloop, drone companies, unmanned aircraft companies, and private companies such as Space X) and thus creating more competition.
As this new form of transportation is further developed, the role of airlines may have to shift to long-haul international flights, making relationships with other transport providers or alliances more important. You may also see an increase towards more point-to-point travel with secondary and tertiary airports benefitting from efforts to combat increasing congestion at hubs, as a result of increased population. (Already taking place today with LCC and the new ULCC)
Interestingly, one of the concerns we will face is the increased risk from infectious diseases turning airports into a hotbed of contagion. In a world where restrictions are in force, the airports could become an asset used to control the flow and spread of diseases. Clearly we have to watch this carefully to protect our members working at these locations and perhaps expand our numbers in case new technologies and workers are introduced.
As the cost of technology contin¬ues to fall and knowledge becomes more accessible, we will see home-made technology and biohacking increase. As the use of home-made technology becomes widespread, challenges for security and monitoring will be the new reality. It will be difficult for security to stay on top of these new devices and technologies. These issues are already being discussed around the world.
As technology drives down the cost of detecting, diagnosing and treating infections, airports and airlines could be tasked with managing infectious diseases. This could impact our existing members working under CATSA if proven more viable.
Airports are a relatively safe place compared to many other public spaces such as rail stations, and they benefit from past experience in security measures put in place. However, we could see airlines or security companies (CATSA or GARDA/G4S), be tasked to take on more responsibility for monitoring and mitigating the spread of pandemics, taking on that responsibility held by governments today. We just don’t know yet which direction our Government is headed. We do know that they contemplated privatizing airports, and recently, they have changed their minds due to the pressures exerted by the IAM and other groups such as airlines and airport authorities.
In the short term, our members working in the passenger security areas will see changes take place to further improve the processing of passengers with newer and improved screening processes, the introduction of newer technologies, and using more passenger data which is now available to further improve security to deter what I have talked about so far. This has already been decided by Transport Canada and other governments around the world.
Future of Transportation Workforce:
Aviation depends on high-skilled employees, whether pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers, or safety inspectors. Presently we are seeing skill supply issues due to the increased demand from emerging markets and the mass exodus of the baby boomers.
In the longer term we may see more fundamental changes to the nature of work. Already in some countries, there are changes taking place such as shifts towards on-demand work, taking advantage of new technolo¬gies to allow people to work when and where they want.
New technologies including AI and automation will fundamentally change what work is perceived to be and we are seeing this with the new equipment being introduced with the new aircraft being purchased by the airlines we work for.
While some jobs in the aviation industry will be shielded, it is likely that others will evolve e.g. customer service will focus on the tricky rather than the routine as anything that is repetitive in nature is subject to be performed by a computer in the form of AI.
And as the nature of work changes globally, expectations of remuneration and incentive structures will also shift. The work ‘contract’ – moral as well as legal – will change. Remember Globalization is a push to drive down wages and benefits. I would hope that this new wave of changes will be accompanied by unrest in the workforce. Back to the Industrial revolution!!
Clearly those unions that are internationally based will survive as they have mirrored companies and their structures in order to survive and compete in trying to represent members and their best interests. UNIFOR – you are doomed!
How do we get there? In the short-term Canada will need to invest more in skills and structures to keep pace with a changing workforce, and position aviation regardless of who or where you work, as a sought-after industry for young job-seekers. It may also need to use new technology to ‘fast-track’ the gaining of ‘experi¬ence’, specifically so for certain higher-skilled occupations.
The Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace Council (CCAA), which the IAMAW has been a member of since the early 1980’s, has recently completed a study for the Government of Canada using real labour market data which shows that our colleges and as a country, we are not keeping up with the demand for skilled aviation workforce and as a result, we will have to bring in workers from outside Canada. This is a big problem in many ways, due to our high unemployment numbers and especially since other countries are experiencing the same concerns with shortages.
In the medium to long-term it will be necessary to manage the transition to automation, which will likely require a smaller workforce. This transition will need to be managed and negotiated with the unions, regulators such as Transport Canada/Canadian Government, colleges, to ensure we have a steady supply of required skilled workforce and to ensure we have meaningful employment and a healthy aviation sector in Canada.
Ground Handling broadly comprises all those services required by an aircraft between landing and take-off. This includes marshalling, loading and unloading, refuelling, security screening, passenger baggage and cargo handling, aircraft maintenance and so on. These tasks are mostly outsourced by many airlines, while some choose to retain some or most of these tasks.
These tasks are at the centre of global changes. As working environments change dramatically for ground handlers around the world, establishing union networks and creating workgroups are vital as these jobs are broken down into separate service areas and sent out for RFP’s for companies to bid on with the end result being “lowest operating costs/wages”.
Canadian Airports Authorities and airlines like Westjet and Air Transat to name a few are racing to subcontract their aircraft handling services in a bid to cut costs while creating instability. We are continually battling the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) and others in Canada for past few years in their contract flipping practices which impact our members.
This contract flipping practice, which impacts all the unions at the airport, seems concentrated mainly in Toronto, but has spread to other airports within Canada. Our members working in these flipped jobs are finding they have new employers, new contracts, lower wages, less benefits, new seniority ranking, and possibility of not being rehired, every few years. If re-hired, they find having to meet new targets, lower safety standards, and increased injuries. Luckily with the assistance of people like Sam Jabbar, is organizing these new companies just as fast, thereby protecting our members from this “contract flip” practice.
So, while the air transport sector continues to grow by about 3.0% every year in Canada and even though there may be more jobs available, they are not increasing proportionally. Large global companies are dominating the ground service sector. They save money by buying equipment centrally, not having to duplicate info and technology and support systems, and sharing their experience and knowledge within their networks. This is why it’s important for us to work in union networks and workgroups in order to shift the balance of power.
Free trade agreements: CETA, TISA, NAFTA, & the TPP, pose threats to everyone working in the transportation industry.
Future of the Airline Industry:
The airline industry has seen few fundamental challenges to business models over the past 30 years, except for the arrival of Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) and the introduction of global alliances such as Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team.
Airlines are struggling to differentiate themselves and profitability typically remains low even though they appear to be on the rise in the last 3 years due mainly to low oil prices. There is still more potential for airlines to take advantage of new advances in automation, new transport modes, and consumer needs. Customer service, social values, and simplicity will become very important as todays passengers expect more. Companies that can use data more effectively will have a clear advantage to make this happen and attract new passengers.
One predictable and powerful fact is the growth of the middle class in emerging mar¬kets, so airports and airlines will need to understand these new custom¬ers and satisfy their needs and expectations.
The future shows us that it will be a bumpy and interesting road ahead with many opportunities and new careers for the new generations ahead. What we once thought of as a permanent place to live and work, (small town), is being replaced by our planet earth where there will be fewer boundaries and shorter distance times in travel in order to get to work and return home to raise our families.
Canadian Airport Authorities:
The IAM has successfully supported the “Fight for $15 & Fairness” campaign which is fast spreading across Canada. Ontario was the most recent province to adopt an increase to the minimum wage which will reach $15 per hour in 2019 if the new government does not change it. Alberta started the climb and is at $13.60. This is a fight and principle we must all continue to support until it is in place nationwide.
Local political action committees are doing an excellent job in highlighting the concerns and promoting the “Fight for $15 & Fairness” campaign.
Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace:
CCAA continues to explore ways of supporting the aviation and aerospace workers in Canada and as a result, continue to operate with specific project funding from the government. CCAA is the only Canadian national council for the aviation and aerospace sector in place today and are dedicated to ensuring the Canadian aviation and aerospace industry has enough workers with the right skills to meet industry needs.
They work with all segments of the industry to develop tools and solutions for specific skills and demographic needs of the industry. Today CCAA has two main areas of focus: skills development through the creation of a national standard for apprenticeship and industry demographics (supply and demand for particular skills). For more details on the above and other news, visit their website at www.avaerocouncil.ca
Safety Management Systems (SMS) continues to be problematic. We are still getting reports from our members of their concerns, and despite all of these reports, Transport Canada and our Canadian government continue to support this program without making the required changes to regulations.
On April 4, 2017, we met with the TRAN committee in Ottawa where we delivered a strong message on our safety concerns relating to the aviation industry where our members work, including SMS and issues relating to the airport machines being used to screen passengers. As the largest union in Canada and in North America representing members in the air transport industry, we are very concerned over our recent findings at certain companies and specific locations. This formed part of our submission.
International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF):
The ITF is an international federation of transport workers’ trade unions. There are about 700 Unions representing about 4.5 Million transport workers in 150 countries. The Civil Aviation section meets every November to discuss their ongoing projects and this year the ITF will hold their congress in Singapore, an event which is held every four years to set policy and direction.
The issue of Flags of Convenience (FOC) started in the maritime sector and has crossed over to aviation. Both groups are working closely together to combat this new strategy by airlines. FOC is the registration of an aircraft in a foreign country with weak laws and operating that aircraft in other countries.
A video created by the ITF dealing with aviation’s members’ concerns was created covering safety concerns, liberalized regulations, precarious work, and flags of convenience to name a few. This 2-minute video summarizes these concerns to educate our members. Click to view:
Here are some of the Civil Aviation ground staff’s ongoing projects from 2014 to 2018 being worked on: Pack Less campaign, Swissport, MRO workgroup, Airport Organizing, LHT Network, Flags of Convenience, Technological Change and future of work, and International Trade Agreements. Of course, international organizing continues to be the top priority to ensure all workers in the world have fair wages and benefits along with respect from their employers.
The ITF continues to concentrate its efforts on the “Trade-In Services Agreement” (TISA) being negotiated secretively in the background by 50 countries since 2012. For now the mandate is to educate unions and their membership of its impact on the labour force.
TISA’s mandate is to strip political power away from citizens, our governments and hand it over to multinational corporations. If adopted, workers’ rights will be eroded, corporations will have economic decision-making advantages and it will open the door to a new wave of privatization. It is about capital movement away from local communities and services, private and public which people rely on every day. If ratified it would cause permanent damage and transfer more wealth and power to global companies.
Recently the ITF opened an office at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) headquarters in Montreal on May 7, 2018. This is a very important step in getting workers’ voices heard by ICAO and their right-wing supporters from around the world.
Together the IAM and ITF are raising our concerns through several position papers submitted to ICAO on many issues such as the deskilling of aircraft maintenance trades, and open skies, to name a few. An open skies workshop was held at ICA on May 7 and 8th.
Automation and digitization continue to be a concern for transportation workers. The introduction of new technology which replaces workers will also grow to the point where many jobs will be lost.
There are 3 challenges we face: 1 – Robotization and remote control of jobs, 2- Improvements of data processing and algorithms which impacts on jobs losses, 3- Introduction of the Uber concept for private jets or flights. Much work and research has to be done to develop a platform to show what can be done to address these challenges.
The IAM and ITF are working together on a project which is very important if Unions are to survive and properly represent the new generation of workers as the Baby Boomers retire around the world. For more info click on www.itfyouth.org or follow them on Twitter at #ITFyouth.
Through the IAM’s Political Action initiatives these issues and the constant attack from our governments trying to take our rights away and force wages downwards will be widely known and talked about amongst our members, families and their friends.
We need to start electing politicians who will work towards advancing our concerns. The IAM has stepped up to the plate and has become very involved politically so that our Government understands that our issues need to be addressed. With the appointment of Lou Pagrach responsible for Political Action, the IAM continues to forge ahead making Governments more accountable. The IAM’s hope is that it has raised your interest to entice you to become more engaged.
It’s been a pleasure & I hope you have enjoyed my report,
Air Transport Coordinator