Analysis of the Illegal Pilots’ Strike in Canada

Analysis of the Illegal Pilots’ Strike in Canada



Analysis of the Illegal Pilots’ Strike in Canada

            On 13 April 2012, approximately one hundred and fifty pilots in Canada called in sick as part of mass action against their employers. This course of action by the pilots resulted in the grounding of dozens of flights around Canada. Travelers were still experiencing the effects of the strike a day later as delays spilled over into 14 April. The decision by some pilots to neglect their duties was met with different reactions by the various parties involved in the dispute. Air Canada chose to forward the case to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which promptly declared the strike illegal. The board ordered the pilots’ union to take measures to end the illegal mass action and pressure the striking pilots into resuming their work duties.

            The Air Canada Pilots Association had different reactions to the strike. The chair of the body insisted that the association had not agreed on the mass action and urged other pilots to ignore their colleagues and tend to their duties. Similarly, the chair of the body’s executive council, Captain Jean-Marc Belanger, explained that the association had not instigated or permitted the decision by some pilots to call in sick. The union’s president, Captain Paul Strachan, had a different reaction as he explained that he understood the pilots’ frustrations. This came after the federal government decided that the contract dispute between Air Canada and the pilots should be sent to arbitration. However, the president was adamant that the airline and the pilots had a legal obligation to avoid disrupting their services while they were still discussing the matter.

Role of Collective Bargaining in the Issue

            Collective bargaining refers to a negotiation process that normally involves employers and workers as they seek to come up with agreements that will define the terms of the employees’ employment (Colosi & Berkeley, 2006). Normally, a union to which the employees’ belong represents their interests and makes their case to the employers. As agreements are reached, the employers and the unions come up with terms regarding the length of employment, work hours, payment for overtime, basic wages and benefits. After the parties settle on an agreement, it works as a contract that governs the relationship of the employer and the workers (Colosi & Berkeley, 2006).

            The incident involving Air Canada and its pilots would have played out differently if the parties had opted to apply the process of collective bargaining. Firstly, the collective bargaining process would have ensured that the whole union was taking one course of action, instead of having one hundred and fifty pilots striking while the rest showed up for work. A united stance would have made it possible for the negotiations to proceed without any mitigating issues affecting them. The application of collective bargaining would have also ensured that there were no disruptions to the services provided by Air Canada. Through the process, the pilots would have been able to tend to their duties as usual, while their union settled the problem with the airline. This way, the airline’s reputation would have remained intact and none of the parties would have suffered any losses in income.

            Collective bargaining would have also provided a better solution for both parties than arbitration. Through collective bargaining, the airline and the union would be assured of control over the situation without any third party subjecting them to terms or conditions that they did not want. For instance, the Canada Industrial Relations Board declared the strike illegal, forcing the pilots to resume their duties lest they face fines of up to one thousand dollars. With collective bargaining, such a situation would not have come up. Decisions made would have involved both parties and any calls of mass action would have been fully endorsed by the pilots’ union.

Scenario Simulation

            Proponents of collective bargaining argue that the system provides desirable results for both employers and workers. These advantages are normally clearer in the case of the employees. With collective bargaining, unionized employees get higher wages than those who are not unionized. Additionally, all employees are likely to benefit from the fact that the system increases the likelihood of income distribution (Colosi & Berkeley, 2006). In the case of the pilots’ strike, the process of collective bargaining would have started with the workers taking the grievances to Air Canada with the union acting as their representative. After the union had aired its member’s grievances, the airline and the union representatives would have set a date for negotiations. During the negotiations process, the union and the airline would work together to reach a tentative agreement that satisfies the needs of the pilots without placing too much of a strain on Air Canada. The situation would also require the two parties to renegotiate terms concerning issues such as work hours, overtime, benefits and vacation days.

            Collective bargaining would work well for the pilots and the airlines in this particular case. Firstly, the process would ensure that the pilots did not take matters into their own hands and call in sick as they had done before. It would also make sure that they made their claims as a united body using the unions to do so. Alternatively, the airlines would benefit from the process by dealing with the grievances of its employees without suffering any serious losses because of grounded and delayed flights.


Air Canada vows business as usual after pilots’ job action. (2012). Retrieved from

Colosi, T. R. & Berkeley, A. E. (2006). Collective bargaining: How it works and why: a manual of theory and practice. Huntington, New York: Juris Pub.

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