The tail fin of an Air Canada plane featuring their logo.
The tail fin of an Air Canada plane featuring their logo. Credit: Air Canada Credit: Air Canada

While Air Canada highlighted profits from their 2023 annual report in a recent shareholders meeting, the company omitted a key factor to their financial success—the unpaid labour of flight attendants.

For 2023, Air Canada reported earning a full year operating income of $2.3 billion on a record operating revenue of $21.8 billion. Despite global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation rates, the annual report noted that the company has stabilized and recovered from 2022.

“Air Canada delivered very strong results in 2023. We met key financial objectives and advanced or exceeded most of our strategic and operational goals for the year, demonstrating our ability to perform consistently,” said Michael Rousseau, president and chief executive officer of Air Canada in a press release from March 26.

But as one of Canada’s major airlines celebrated their financial success, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) criticized that these profits were made on the backs of flight attendants. According to a CUPE press release from April 3, unpaid labour of flight attendants was a contributing factor to Air Canada’s financial success.

The Air Canada Component of CUPE represents over 10,000 flight attendants with Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge. They stated that Air Canada’s annual report failed to highlight the amount of unpaid labour that flights attendants are currently required to do and how this unpaid labour has contributed to the company’s financial success.

“While it is somewhat comforting to know that Air Canada is financially viable in a time of great uncertainty in the airline industry, we also know that a lot of these profits come from the amount of unpaid labour that flight attendants are required to do,” said Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada Component of CUPE.

Air Canada flight attendants are integral to the company’s operations noted CUPE’s press release. Flight attendants’ role is more than just providing comfort to passengers—they are key to ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone on the plane.

These responsibilities include enforcing safety rules and procedures, assisting mobility-impaired passengers and unaccompanied minors, and knowing how to respond to emergency situations ranging from dealing with dangerous goods to responding to medical emergencies.

CUPE’s Air Canada Component called on the company to acknowledge flight attendant’s unpaid labour and to provide proper compensation such as fair wages and reasonable working conditions.

“With our contract coming up for negotiation next year, Air Canada and its shareholders have an opportunity to correct this injustice and compensate flight attendants for all the work that they do. And we know from this annual report, that they have the money to do it,” Lesosky said.

Unpaid work, an ongoing issue in the airline industry

For flight attendants, the clock starts once the aircraft doors closes up until the doors open after landing—this timeframe only accounts for a fraction of a flight attendant’s actual labour and any flight delays, such as late boarding, aircraft maintenance or weather delays, will subsequently affect their pay.

In some cases when a flight is cancelled, flight attendants were not paid at all.

On average, flight attendants in Canada work about 35 hours of unpaid labour every month according to a 2023 survey from CUPE’s Airline Division.

Flight attendants perform duties for ground, pre-boarding and galley preparation—all of which are not compensated since they are duties when the aircraft is parked. Other examples of unpaid work include pre-flight cabin safety and security checks. When it comes to mandatory safety training, flights attendants are only paid half of their wage.

Air Canada is not an exception—multiple Canadian airlines benefit from the unpaid labour of flight attendants. There is an estimate of 18,500 flight attendants that are represented by CUPE’s Airline Division. Along with Air Canada, CUPE flight attendants also work for WestJet, Air Transat, Sunwing, Cal Air, PAL Airlines, Canadian North, Flair Airlines, Pivot and Pascan.

Back in April 2023, CUPE’s Airline Division launched the campaign ‘Unpaid Work Won’t Fly’ to bring awareness to the issue of unpaid labour in the airline industry. The campaign’s message was simple: “if a flight attendant is at work, in uniform, performing work duties—they should be getting paid.”

Part of the campaign called for Canadians to sign a petition for the federal government to close the loopholes in the airline industry and prevent unpaid work. About 17,000 Canadians signed the petition, but the efforts came up short and the federal government did not act—CUPE’s Airline Division responded that the possibility of job action has only increased because of the Trudeau government’s refusal to address these injustices.

This year, the Air Canada Component of CUPE will be negotiating a new contract for its members—and they hope that Air Canada will take proper steps to ensure that employees receive fair compensation and are acknowledged for the work that they do.

Kiah Lucero smiling and holding a camera.

Kiah Lucero

Kiah Lucero is a multimedia journalist based out of Calgary, Alta. Back in April 2020, she completed her Bachelor of Communication, majoring in journalism from Mount Royal University. Her published work...