Summer bonus scheme incentivizing airport screening staff to work while sick, unions say

A union representing airport screening officers in Alberta says some of its members showed up to work feeling sick in order to access a summer attendance bonus program being considered by a committee of the Communal room.

“It’s a reward for not doing the right thing,” said Richard Brown, president of Teamsters Canada Local Lodge 362.

“I’ve personally spoken to people who feel sick and shouldn’t go to work or stay, and they’ve chosen to show up and stay just to make sure they’re eligible.”

Earlier this year – as air traffic increased after nosediving in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic – screening officers hired by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) been informed of the bonus program.

According to a memo sent by one company, screening officers would receive $200 for each week they worked their full scheduled shifts. The program was to last 12 weeks from June 5 to this Saturday.

With additional incentives of $500, workers were told they could earn bonuses of up to $3,900.

A less “lucrative” version of the program was offered last Christmas, according to the memo.

Brown said the program forced workers to weigh their health against their wallets.

“It created an atmosphere, especially right now with inflation…and people struggling,” he said. “It’s a way to make extra money, so people have canceled vacations and they’re getting sick.”

Brown said the inducement was particularly frustrating because the union had been negotiating a new contract with GardaWorld since January and demanded a pay rise.

“It’s extra income that should have been applied directly to salaries, rather than as a bonus to appear when you’re not quite right,” he said.

Brown said the incentive masks other problems with the selection system, such as a shortage of job applicants, poor staff retention and poor working conditions.

According to union official Richard Brown, the money used for the incentive program should have gone directly to workers’ wages. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

In an emailed statement Wednesday, CATSA said the program was developed with its screening contractors and used a limited amount of funds that were not otherwise used in April and May.

Expenditure data is not available, he said, because CATSA has not yet reviewed invoices from its contractors.

“We have no indication at this time that screening officers are not taking scheduled vacation or sick leave, as needed,” the agency said.

Dave Flowers is president of District 140 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents thousands of screening officers in Ontario and British Columbia. He said the bounty scheme has also convinced some of its members to go to work sick.

“Our hope is that this doesn’t lead to epidemics or mistakes being made in an industry where mistakes can’t be made at the expense of the flying public,” Flowers said via email.

“There’s $200 at stake”

A CATSA official came to the defense of the bonus program when questioned last week by NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, the party’s transportation critic.

Bachrach and other members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities met to discuss the controversial ArriveCAN screening app and staffing issues and flight delays at airports during of summer.

Late in the meeting, Bachrach turned to CATSA’s incentive program. The committee heard that CATSA, a publicly funded Crown corporation, allows contractors to charge CATSA for the costs of the program.

“Don’t you see how that puts the workers in a very difficult situation? Because basically you wake up with a sore throat and you make the decision to go to work and there’s $200 at stake. isn’t that an incentive to go to work sick?” Bachrach asked Neil Parry, vice-president of CATSA.

Parry said that while workers who feel sick and stay home cannot participate in the incentive program for that week, they are eligible for subsequent weeks in which they meet the terms of the program and retain the right. to all of their basic compensation, including salaries paid. sick days.

“We don’t see it as an incentive to go to work sick,” he said. “It’s supernumerary to that compensation, so they’re not out of pocket in any capacity.

“The incentive program is an additional bonus structure that they can take advantage of when it’s the best opportunity for them.”

WATCH / CATSA official defends bonus program amid criticism

CATSA official defends bounty program against criticism

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, the party’s transportation critic, asks Neil Parry, vice-president of operations for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), about a bounty program for contract screeners at a parliamentary committee meeting on August 19, 2022 .

Parry added that CATSA trusts workers to “act professionally” if they are feeling unwell.

“They demonstrated that for over two years during the pandemic, they would stay home, be responsible,” Parry said. “When they have vacations planned, we encourage them to take them because… it’s an extremely busy environment and they’ve done a noble job under those pressures.”

The program has been effective, Parry added.

“Our absenteeism across the country has gone down over the summer,” he said.

Ryan H. Bowman