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WestJet union drive lift off

A WestJet flight attendant says rules that effectively pay starting workers less than minimum wage because they're compensated only for time in the air is helping shore up support for a union drive at Canada's second-largest airline.

The employee, who doesn't want to be identified for fear of reprisal, says several colleagues have complained about an industry-wide system that compensates flight attendants only for time between leaving one airport gate to arriving at the destination terminal.

That means full-time flight attendants receiving a starting wage of $25.29 per hour of flying time, won't be compensated for time on the ground preparing airplanes for service, deplaning passengers or any activities before or after flights.

If cabin crews spend half an eight-hour day in the air, they would earn the equivalent of $12.64 an hour, less than the $14 minimum in Ontario.

The Calgary-based airline says total compensation — including profit-sharing it says is among the best in the airline industry — is generous and compares favourably to carriers of a similar size.

The head of the union representing Jazz flight attendants employed by Chorus Aviation says his group was able to negotiate protection by requiring the hourly wage to be double the minimum wage in a province.

Canadian Flight Attendant Union president Trevor Beattie says that means Toronto flight attendants employed by Jazz to fly Air Canada Express receive starting wages of $28 per hour, rising to $30 next January if a second increase takes effect.

Beattie says several airline unions are looking to play catch-up by trying to convince their employers to boost the hourly wage to match Jazz.



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