WestJet flight attendants claim they're paid less than minimum wage

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WestJet flight attendants claim they're paid less than minimum wage

WestJet flight attendants claim they're paid less than minimum wage

Some WestJet flight attendants are claiming the airline routinely pays its cabin crew less than minimum wage, since they are only paid for the amount of time they spend in the air, not their time at work.

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).

Full-time flight attendants have a starting wage of $25.29 per hour of flying time, and the maximum wage is $47.50 per hour. Based on the expectation of around 80 flying hours a month, an annual base salary begins at about $24,500 and tops out at about $46,500.

"Somebody out of high school will look at $25 and think that's fantastic, not understanding that's per flying block hour, not duty hour," one flight attendant said.

"Everyone is talking about minimum wage increases and are up in arms about Tim Hortons workers who deserve better. What about the person who is responsible for your safety on an aircraft? Yes, they serve you coffee most of the time, but that's not really their job."

Total compensation 'generous,' airline says

​Flight attendants at the Calgary-based carrier have tried for several years to unionize — a drive that has renewed energy following the unionization of pilots, who are currently negotiating their first contract.

WestJet declined requests for an interview and did not respond to requests for clarification, information or comment. 

In a statement to CBC News, WestJet said it "provides our cabin crew members with a salary and compensation package that offers [a] variety of unique features."

WestJet provides full-time cabin crew members with benefits, an optional share-purchase program and profit-sharing when the airline is profitable. 

"WestJet profit-sharing is among the best in the entire airline industry," the statement said. "We believe that our total compensation to our cabin crew is generous and compares very favourably to carriers of a similar size."

Federal rules

The way WestJet pays its flight attendants could be in violation of federal labour rules, which stipulate companies in federally regulated industries such as aviation have to pay employees for all work.

"The employer has an obligation to pay the employee for all hours worked and not for just one activity at work," Olivier Bouffard, spokesperson with federal labour department, said in a statement. "Hours spent by an employee at the employer's disposal on the worksite, such as preparing for the flight and cleaning the plane, are considered hours of work and they should be paid their hourly rate."

So far, the labour department has not received any formal complaints from WestJet flight attendants. Bouffard wouldn't say whether WestJet is breaking any rules.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said it is looking into whether federal labour rules are being broken. "That's a possibility and something we're exploring," said David Fleming, a CUPE representative who has been working for about a year to unionize WestJet flight attendants.

Fleming would not provide numbers or timelines about how the drive is progressing besides saying "things are going well."

He said challenges at the airline include turnover among flight attendants, and the difficulty of connecting with cabin crew members, who by the very nature of their jobs are in transit much of the time.

The flight attendants who spoke to CBC News say they don't want to quit their jobs because they appreciate the flexibility the position provides and they would lose their seniority if they joined a different airline.

Correction : A previous version of this story stated WestJet flight attendants are not paid for days they are on call but not requested to work. In fact, WestJet does pay cabin crew members who are on call, whether they are requested to work that day or not.(Mar 16, 2018 12:17 PM)