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Transport minister wilfully ignorant to cause of airport security delays: Steelworkers union

The following statement was issued today by Dominic Lemieux, Quebec Director of the Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers union, in response to federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s comments regarding excessive wait times at many airports:

The Minister of Transport said last week that increasing delays at airports are not due to a shortage of security screening officers, instead pointing the finger at travellers who supposedly are out-of-practice in navigating airport security.

Such a statement would be laughable – if it did not reflect a disturbing lack of understanding of the serious reality on the ground.

Currently, there is a desperate need for additional screening officers to fill vacant positions at several regional airports. Screeners from Montreal are even being asked to fill shifts at the Quebec City airport due to a staff shortage.

The turnover rate for airport screeners is particularly high due to difficult working conditions, and in fact is significantly more pronounced than staffing shortages in other sectors of the labour market.

As with workers in the hotel and restaurant industries, airport security screeners have been hit hard by the pandemic. Now that travel is resuming, many workers have gone elsewhere in this booming labour market to find better-paying jobs, with working conditions and schedules that are more compatible with personal and family life, and with less pressure and stress.

We invite the Minister to visit airports in major Canadian cities such as Montreal or Toronto – in the middle of rush hour and without a chauffeur – to get an idea of the stress that screening officers experience before they even start their shift.

Turning a blind eye to staff shortages does not help the government nor its Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), to find effective solutions to attract new screening officers and to retain those who are already trained and working.

The work of screening officers is a pillar of aviation security. The safety of all travellers and workers aboard flights depends on the rigorous work demanded of screening officers, and which must be performed within limited timeframes. Their working standards simply do not reflect the responsibilities imposed on them and the reality they face.

We also must ensure that staffing shortages are not used as a pretext for relaxed vigilance around security or for lowering standards in the recruitment of new screening officers.

With the return of tourism, whether in Old Quebec or around the Canadian Grand Prix circuit in Montreal, and with the pending summer holiday season and the pandemic easing, the pressure on airports will increase. The abundance of other opportunities in the labour market, combined with the lack of consideration for screening officers, may well exacerbate staffing shortages. Conditions for a perfect storm are in place.

The government must give CATSA and its contractor STAS (Securitas Transport Aviation Sécurité) the means to negotiate working conditions that will allow them to recruit more staff and retain existing workers. The efficient operation of our air transportation system is at stake, as is the critical need to get our tourism sector back on its feet following the nightmare of the pandemic.

Dominic Lemieux
Quebec Director
Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers

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