Pearson International layoffs to cause delay sin Toronto airport

With nearly 300 security screeners at Pearson International facing layoffs Wednesday, opponents of the move claim Canada’s busiest airport can expect longer checkpoint lineups and compromised safety standards.

Earlier this month, the Star reported that privately held Garda Security Solutions, which supplies screeners at Pearson, planned “temporary” layoffs of 299 junior employees.

On Tuesday, Denis Ellickson, a lawyer and spokesperson for the Canadian Airport Workers’ Union, which represents Pearson screeners, said 63 will be laid off permanently. A further 236 will be handed reduced hours.

The cuts, which reflect a 20 per cent staff reduction, arrive as passenger traffic continues to swell at Pearson. Traffic increased nearly 11 per cent between October 2009 and October 2011.

“It’s really counterintuitive,” Ellickson said. “The reduction in staff is going to create increased burden on existing staff, who are working to the limit. I don’t think there’s any doubt there’s going to be increased lineups and wait times for the traveling public.”

Both Garda and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, the federal agency in charge of airport security, would not discuss whether operations will be affected by the layoffs.

“It is not CATSA’s role to advise or direct the way screening contractors (Garda) manage their workforce,” spokesperson Mathieu Larocque said.

Trinity-Spadina MP Oliva Chow said the layoffs will almost certainly affect airport security. Screeners monitor X-ray scanners and metal detectors and, in Canadian airports, shoulder much of the security responsibility.

“There’s absolutely no excuse to lay off airport screeners,” she said.

But Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto professor and national security expert, said Pearson’s screener surplus — roughly 1,700 were employed before the layoffs — reflects a gross mismanagement of security expenditures and is largely unnecessary. The risk of a terrorist act at a Canadian airport, he said, is “relatively low.”

“A system that makes sure everyone is checked as potential carriers of explosive materials? That is absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

Pearson has not set a contingency plan should the staff decrease result in delays, but spokesperson Patricia Krale expects Wednesday flyers to experience business as usual.

“We’re not anticipating any impact to passengers,” she said. “If there is an impact, we’ll deal with it at the time.”

Ellickson said employees have been advised not to take job action, and no petition or protest is planned.

Source: The Star