Proposed legislation would ensure flight attendants are paid for pre- and post-flight duties

Conservative MP Lianne Rood has put forward a private member's bill that would ensure flight attendants are paid for their pre- and post-flight duties.

Flight attendants have been advocating for changes to the labour code because they don't start getting paid until their plane is in motion — and their compensation ends when the plane stops at the gate after landing.

"This is unfair and puts many women and diverse Canadians at a disadvantage," Rood said Wednesday as she tabled the bill.

Conservative member of Parliament Lianne Rood rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in a March 23, 2021, file photo.
Conservative member of Parliament Lianne Rood rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 23, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) air division — which represents 18,000 flight attendants — says that on average, flight attendants do 35 hours of unpaid work per month. That includes such duties as overseeing the boarding and unboarding process.

C-409 would amend the labour code by adding a section requiring that flight attendants be paid for "carrying out all pre-flight and post-flight duties relating to aircraft security and passenger service, including assisting with embarking and disembarking and pre-flight cabin and passenger safety checks."

Wesley Lesosky, a flight attendant and president of CUPE's air division, said the bill being introduced is "momentous."

"I think it's amazing that we're growing the support behind the payment for flight attendants, so we're very happy to see that something has been introduced," he said.

But Lesosky said the Conservatives didn't consult with the union before tabling the bill and it could use some tweaks.

As it stands, the bill says that flight attendants should be compensated for completing mandatory training. But Lesosky said that language needs to be altered to specify that attendants must receive their full hourly wage for mandatory training.

"For training, for instance … a lot of us are paid half our hourly rate or minimum wage, whichever is greater," he said.

"Flight attendants deserve to be paid their full hourly rate for any mandatory training."

The NDP has been calling on the government to make similar changes to the labour code. Party leader Jagmeet Singh and MP Bonita Zarrillo joined CUPE members for a press conference to raise awareness of the issue in May.

Zarrillo told CBC News she wants to ensure the changes the Conservatives propose are thorough enough before deciding on whether to support the bill.

"The consultation has been limited on this bill. So we definitely want to consult with the workers," she said.

"We definitely want to make sure that the bill is robust enough to cover all the needs of unpaid workers and unpaid flight attendants."

New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and president of CUPE 407 Alia Hussain look on as president of Air Component CUPE Wesley Lesosky speaks about unpaid work for flight attendants during a news conference, Thursday, May 30, 2024 in Ottawa.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh and president of CUPE 407 Alia Hussain look on as Wesley Lesosky, president of Air Component CUPE, speaks about unpaid work by flight attendants on Thursday, May 30, 2024 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In a media statement, CUPE said that the lack of consultation by the Conservatives is "disappointing." But Lesosky said he was encouraged by the fact that the issue is gaining cross-party support.

"You have two parties behind it. It definitely gives us pause to reflect and see that this is a great thing. It's moving, it has momentum," he said.

Rood wasn't made available for an interview. A Conservative Party spokesperson referred CBC News to her statement on Wednesday, when she introduced the bill.

The House of Commons has adjourned for the summer, meaning the bill won't be debated until MPs return in the fall. But private member bills rarely get through the Parliament in a timely manner — if they pass at all.

When asked if the Liberals would support the legislation, Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan's office said they are evaluating Rood's bill.

"We take the issues facing flight attendants very seriously and are currently reviewing the proposed legislation," a spokesperson said in an email.

Lesosky said he doesn't expect the legislation will pass before the next election, but hopes the labour code changes will make it into parties' platforms.