Some of the cabin crew at WestJet are claiming that they are not being compensated fairly for the amount of time they spend at work. Apparently, the flight attendants are only being paid for their time in the air and not for the total amount of time they’re at work, in uniform.
Some airlines do pay their workers for the “dead time” spent between flights, or at the airport. At WestJet, their policy is to pay their staff from “wheels up to wheels down.”
As minimum wage rises across the country, WestJet workers feel they are not getting their appropriate wage. According to the flight attendants’ union, the “airline’s compensation for flight attendants could, in fact, be violating federal labour rules.”
CBC News sat down with two flight attendants who are part of this compensation campaign; they each have over 10 years of experience with the air carrier.
“If you put on your uniform and go to work, you get a minimum of this much pay,” said one WestJet employee, who compares WestJet to other airlines that compensate their workers fairly, in their opinion.
The way that WestJet calculates their pay puts them at a disadvantage, say the flight attendants.
“For instance, cabin crew on a one-hour flight from Calgary to Vancouver could end up working a four-hour shift from the time they arrive at the Calgary airport to the time they leave the Vancouver airport.
WestJet would pay the flight attendant for one hour of flying time — so a rate of $26 per hour spread out over the four hours they were physically on the job turns into $6.50 an hour for that type of shift, they say. That's well below the minimum wage in both Alberta ($13.60) and British Columbia ($11.35).”
Flight attendants working full-time start at $25.29 per hour “flying time” which goes up to a maximum of $47.50 per hour. If their pay is extended to a yearly salary, flight attendants can make anywhere between $24,500 and $46,500 annually, based on an 80-hour month. All of those hours are spent in the air.
The flight attendants compare their plight to the recent news about Tim Hortons employees who saw thousands of people rally behind them for wage fairness earlier this year.
WestJet said that they provide their “cabin crew members with a salary and compensation package that offers [a] variety of unique features,” including benefits for full-timers and other stock options. WestJet believes their total compensation to staff is generous and comparable to other carriers of the same size.
However, when WestJet is compared to Air Canada Jazz wages, the one hour “fly time” shift would equate to a minimum of 4.5 hours’ pay. This may be due to the fact that Air Canada Jazz has a union and subsequent contract that mandates daily minimums.
Jazz also pays workers for being on-call, while WestJet does not. Federal labour rules dictate that on-call workers “who are asked to report to work must be paid for a minimum of three hours.”
Olivier Bouffard, spokesperson at the federal labour department explains that “The employer has an obligation to pay the employee for all hours worked and not just for one activity at work.”