Air Canada must reinstate retired pilots who had wings clipped

Originally published in the Vancouver Sun on November 8th, 2010. To go to the Vancouver Sun website please click here

OTTAWA — Two former Air Canada pilots who were forced to retire at age 60 must be reinstated with full seniority and compensation for some lost wages, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled Monday.

The tribunal rejected, however, the pilots’ request to force Air Canada to “cease and desist” making pilots retire at 60, and also denied their claims of $20,000 each for “pain and suffering.”

George Vilven, 67, and Neil Kelly, 65, were forced to retire in 2003 and 2005 respectively.

Vilven said Monday he’s happy with the decision, but sorry it doesn’t extend to scores of other Air Canada pilots who have been forced to retire against their wishes.

“I’m not breaking new ground here,” he said from his home in Airdrie, Alta. “Every airline in North America, including WestJet, allows their pilots to fly to 65 and beyond, except Air Canada.”

The pilots had gone to the Canadian Human Rights Commission — which reviews complaints of employees who fall within federal jurisdiction — soon after they were forced to retire, accusing Air Canada of engaging in age discrimination.

The commission referred the cases to the tribunal, which ruled in August 2009 that Air Canada’s mandatory retirement policy was not justified.

Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) have appealed that ruling to the Federal Court of Canada and a hearing is slated for later this month.

ACPA President Paul Strachan said his group believes the tribunal erred in not accepting the right of Air Canada and the pilots’ representative to determine the age of retirement during the collective-bargaining process. He said a recent survey of the association’s membership — which includes slightly fewer than 3,000 pilots — showed more than 80 per cent want the retirement age to be 60 or younger.

Raymond Hall, a lawyer and retired Air Canada pilot, said he’s optimistic the federal court will uphold the tribunal’s 2009 discrimination ruling.

“It’s been a long, long road,” said Hall, a spokesman for the Fly Past 60 Coalition.

The tribunal’s ruling Monday revolved solely around the remedies Air Canada should provide the two pilots. Aside from being reinstated, the pilots were awarded back pay to the August 2009 ruling of discrimination. They had sought compensation back to the day they were forced to leave their jobs.

In the ruling, the tribunal said Air Canada has agreed to reinstate the two pilots as soon as they get the required training updates and meet other medical requirements.

Vilven said he expects to be back flying within three months.

Susan Eng, a spokeswoman for CARP, the major lobby group representing aging Canadians, embraced the ruling as wonderful news for the two pilots.

But, she said, the big battle to end mandatory retirement is still being waged.

She said CARP will continue to press federal lawmakers to close loopholes in the Human Rights Act that allow employers to discriminate based on age.