Canadian North gives out holiday bonuses amid questions about airline’s finances

A Canadian North plane at the Iqaluit airport July 2019. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Canadian North gave its workers bonuses this holiday season, but it’s unclear how much.

In a letter to employees on December 6th, the airline’s executive team called the bonuses “recognition awards” and that all staff would be receiving them on their next pay.

Questions remain regarding the airline’s financial position after it received more than $100 million in government funding during the COVID-19 pandemic and got approval for changes to the conditions on its 2019 merger with First Air.

Those changes meant it could reduce service to some remote communities and hike passenger and cargo rates by up to 25 per cent. At the time, Northern Affairs Canada Minister Dan Vandal defended the changes as an effort to ensure the airline remains financially viable.

Canadian North said this is the first time since the pandemic that it’s been able to express gratitude to its employees through bonuses.

The airline refused CBC’s request for an interview.

It also did not respond before deadline to questions regarding how much money it’s spending on bonuses, and how much each employee will receive.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for the airline said the bonuses are a token of its thanks and appreciation through recent rough years.

That includes the merger with First Air, the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently this year’s wildfires across the country.

“This gesture is particularly significant as many of our team members not only work for Canadian North but also live in and contribute to our communities,” spokesperson Annie Tomlinson said in an email.

“Our staff have been indispensable in providing continuous and crucial service to our communities in Canada’s Arctic during these challenging times, and their commitment and resilience have been crucial in maintaining our operations and supporting the communities we serve.”

The airline received $138 million in federal funding during the pandemic.

Nunavut Economic Development Minister David Akeeagok said the airline wasn’t allowed to give bonuses while receiving public money.

But the government funding stopped last year.

Akeeagok said there’s a lack of understanding when it comes to bonuses.

“It’s one way of appreciating staff. All the airlines are getting creative in terms of how they compensate,” Akeeagok said.

“I don’t think Canadian North is alone in trying to retain their staff. And if it’s for all the employees, all the groundwork that is done in our communities, those are done by our local people and they work very hard when the airplane arrives.”

CBC News also reached out to five of Canada’s major airlines to inquire whether they, too, offer employee bonuses.

Porter Airlines said it has a performance-based bonus program, while Air Transat said it did not give bonuses before the holiday this year.

Air Canada, Westjet and Sunwing did not respond by deadline.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Extra medical flights to and from Nunatsiavut to continue, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Record December passenger numbers for airports in Arctic Finland, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Air France launches flights to three destinations above the Arctic Circle, The Independent Barents Observe

CBC News

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