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Ryanair row deepens as European pilots strike

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FRANKFURT AM MAIN: Ryanair is bracing for mass travel disruptions on Friday as pilots across Europe begin a coordinated 24-hour strike to push their demands for better pay and conditions at the peak of the busy summer season.

The Irish no-frills airline said it would be scrapping some 400 out of 2,400 European flights scheduled for Friday as pilots in Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands walked off the job.

Around 55,000 passengers would be affected by the strikes, said Ryanair, which has offered customers refunds or the option of rerouting their journey.

Ryanair has slammed the strikes as “unnecessary” but pilots counter that the carrier has refused to engage in meaningful dialogue about collective labour agreements since it began recognising unions in December 2017.

Germany will be worst hit by the industrial action, with 250 flight cancellations at 10 airports.

The country’s powerful Cockpit union said it had called on Ryanair’s roughly 480 Germany-based pilots to walk out from 03:01 am (0101 GMT) until 02:59 am Saturday.

It accused Ryanair of “categorically” ruling out higher personnel costs for cockpit crew, leaving no room for a compromise.

“Ryanair alone is responsible for the escalation we are now seeing,” Cockpit president Martin Locher told a press conference on Wednesday.

In the Netherlands, Ryanair filed for an urgent court order to try to prevent Dutch pilots from joining the industrial action.

But the Haarlem District Court on Thursday ruled against the airline. “The strike may go ahead,” judge Theo Roell said.

In the Netherlands around 22 flights from Eindhoven airport could potentially be affected, the ANP news agency reported.

But Ryanair, in a statement said, “there will be no cancellations (of flights to and from the Netherlands) as a result of the unnecessary strike action by the Dutch pilot union”.

And in a later statement, Ryanair said that despite the “regrettable and unjustified strike action” more than 2,000 flights — 85% of its schedule — would operate as normal across Europe on Friday.

Customers were notified as early as possible and a majority of those affected had already been moved to another Ryanair flight, the airline added.

Turbulent summer

The unprecedented simultaneous strike action is the latest headache in a turbulent summer for Europe’s second-largest airline.

It already suffered a round of strikes by cockpit and cabin crew last month that disrupted 600 flights in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, affecting 100,000 travellers.

Ryanair, which flies in 37 countries and carried 130 million passengers last year, averted widespread Christmas strikes last year by agreeing to recognise trade unions for the first time in its 33-year history.

Since then, however, it has struggled to reach agreements.

The company is eyeing profits of around 1.25 billion euros (RM5.86 billion) this year and boasts lower costs per passenger than its competitors.

But Ryanair pilots say they earn less than counterparts at other airlines like Lufthansa.

Unions also want the airline to give contractors the same work conditions as staff employees.

Another key complaint of workers based in countries other than Ireland is the fact that Ryanair employs them under Irish legislation, arguing most of its employees work on board Irish planes.

Staff claim this creates huge insecurity for them, blocking their access to state benefits in their country.

Threat to move jobs

At a Frankfurt press conference on Wednesday, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said the company’s German pilots enjoy “excellent working conditions”, earning up to 190,000 euros (RM890,178) annually, which he said was more than their peers at budget rival Eurowings made.

He added that Ryanair had already offered a 20% pay increase this year and that 80% of its pilots in Germany were now on permanent contracts.

Ryanair has repeatedly said it remained open to further talks with pilot representatives.

But its combative chief executive Michael O’Leary has also warned the airline may shift jobs and planes to more profitable areas if the turmoil continues.

It has already threatened to move part of its Dublin fleet to Poland, which could cost 300 jobs, including 100 pilot positions.

Unions have strongly condemned what they see as Ryanair’s attempts to play countries off against each other.

Peter Scherrer, deputy secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation, said he welcomed Friday’s cross-border show of unity by pilots because it made it harder for management to ignore their demands.

“I think it also sends a signal to other companies where workers are played off against each other,” he told Germany’s regional broadcaster RBB. — AFP

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Canada-wide cannabis shortages to persist for years: Producers

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Krissy Calkins smokes a marijuana joint at a "Wake and Bake" legalized marijuana event in Toronto on Wednesday, October 17, 2018.


Christopher Katsarov / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The supply shortages that have plagued many provinces in the first month of legal cannabis will likely persist for years, industry insiders say.

Provinces including British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have all reported varying degrees of shortages.

New Brunswick was forced to temporarily close more than half its stores, while the Quebec Cannabis Corporation has reduced its store opening hours to four days a week. Labrador’s only legal cannabis store said it was forced to temporarily close after being without any product for nearly two weeks.

“Some licensed producers have been unable to deliver the volumes that they had originally committed to,” said Kate Bilney, a spokeswoman for the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch.

Khurram Malik, CEO of the Toronto-based cannabis company Biome Grow Inc., said the lack of supply is due in part to the tough regulations imposed by Health Canada on the country’s 132 licensed producers, and the time required by companies to develop a quality and compliant product.

He said the federal department also took too long to approve licences.

“The rules here are so difficult to grow cannabis — quite frankly more difficult than anywhere else in the world — that if you’re a new licence holder and you’ve never done this before, it’s going to take you a year, year-and-a-half, or two years to get any decent, consistent quality product out the door in any predictable volumes,” said Malik, adding it’s much easier and cheaper to grow in jurisdictions such as California.

“The good thing with that is, yes, it makes things difficult domestically, but the rest of the world looks at us as outright experts in this. They say if you can grow in Canada, you can grow anywhere.”

Malik said he suspects some companies did stockpile cannabis leading up to Oct. 17, but logistics such as packaging and shipping have held up distribution as producers navigate the red tape of a brand new sector.

“There may be empty store shelves right now in various provinces, but there’s product sitting in vaults ready to move. That will clean itself out in the coming weeks,” said Malik, whose company has facilities under development in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

“Once that’s out of the way, then you’re going to have intermittent shortages throughout 2019 and into 2020 as people produce and ship right away.”

Health Canada said it has taken steps to improve the licensing and capacity of producers, including increasing approved production capacity from 185,000 square metres to more than 1.2 million square metres since May 2017.

The department declined a request for an interview. But a statement from spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau acknowledged that product shortages would likely continue “in the months ahead.”

“As with any new industry where there is considerable consumer demand, we expect there may be periods where inventories of some products run low or, in some cases, run out,” said Jarbeau in an email.

“Health Canada remains confident that there is sufficient supply of cannabis overall to meet market demand now and into the future.”

The department said given the long-standing prohibition of cannabis, there were no established benchmarks to precisely estimate demand levels, or to determine which products would be in high demand.

“As the overall supply chain gains experience in the Canadian marketplace, it is expected that such localized and product-specific shortages will become far fewer in number,” she said.

Brenda and Trevor Tobin, the mother-and-son owners of Labrador City’s High North, said demand at the store currently far outweighs the available supply.

The shop sold all of its cannabis in the first three hours on legalization day, and in the weeks following, products dried up for almost two weeks.

Brenda Tobin said she continues to sell product faster than producers are able to deliver it. She said that has prompted some of her customers to buy cannabis illegally.

“A lot of them have said, ‘Well I guess it’s back to the black market’,” said Tobin. “We hate to hear that, but I’m assuming if they want their product, they’re going to get it one way or the other.”

She said product availability has also been restricted as producers send lists of available products, rather than the shop being able to request certain products, she said.

Authorities in B.C. and Alberta said licensed producers have not been able to deliver on the volumes they had originally committed to, but neither province provided specifics.

“While we forecasted and planned for this level of demand, we did not anticipate the supply challenges,” said Heather Holmen, manager of communications for Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis. “The shortage of product is a Canada-wide challenge.”

The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation said it received less than 40% of the product it ordered from 14 licensed producers in August, but was able to bring in inventory from a P.E.I. producer days before legalization to help address the shortage.

The shortages meant that three Nova Scotia cannabis stores closed early a few hours early on three occasions during the first week of legalization. There have not been any closures since then.

Cannabis NB said it received 20 to 30% of its order for legalization day. It said 12 of the province’s 20 stores were forced to temporarily close in the last few weeks, but have all since reopened.

“Temporary closures are sometimes required to allow for new inventory to arrive,” Cannabis NB said in an email. “We expect supply levels to eventually normalize, however, the demand is consistent, and supply is a challenge.”

Meanwhile in Ontario — where its online store is the only way to legally purchase recreational cannabis until brick-and-mortar stores are put in place next year — the provincial ombudsman has received more than 1,000 complaints related to delivery delays, poor customer service and issues with billing.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said this week that the online Ontario Cannabis Store was returning to its original delivery time of one to three days, after receiving 200,000 orders since Oct. 17.

Ray Gracewood, chief commercial officer for the New Brunswick-based OrganiGram, said cannabis companies knew it would be a challenge to fulfil the demand during the first few months following legalization, and a shortage was inevitable as producers play catch-up.

“There’s a huge novelty factor and I think it probably has really captured the imagination of Canadians in general,” said Gracewood. “It’s a validation that Canadian consumers are willing to embrace regulated and legalized product.”

Gracewood said Canadian consumers have a whole new world of cannabis products to look forward to, and he expects producers will start developing product niches.

Ottawa has said it is aiming to make edibles containing cannabis and cannabis concentrates legal by next October.

Canada’s cannabis product shortage, by the numbers

Industry insiders say the cannabis product shortages that have plagued many provinces will likely persist for years. Here are a few numbers on how Canadian recreational cannabis sales have unfolded during their first legal month:

132: The number of companies licensed to produce cannabis in Canada, according to Health Canada.

78: The number of companies with a licence for sales.

191: The number of expansion amendments that Health Canada has issued, allowing licence holders to expand production capacity.

14,500 kilograms: The amount of dried cannabis licensed producers reported shipping to provincial and territorial retailers at the end of September, along with 370 litres of cannabis oil.

40%: The portion of its initial product order the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation received leading up to legalization day on Oct. 17.

20-30%: The portion of its initial product order Cannabis NB received leading up to legalization.

340 kilograms: The amount of cannabis Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries shipped to retailers in October.

51,277: The combined number of transactions made at the B.C. Cannabis Store in Kamloops and the online store between Oct. 17 and Nov. 13.

More than 200,000: The number of orders the Ontario Cannabis Store has received since legalization day.

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Natural Resources minister says new pipelines the answer to oil price problems

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CALGARY — Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi says he shares Albertan’s “frustration” at billions of dollars being lost to the Canadian economy due to oil price discounts linked to export pipeline capacity constraints.

But he says Ottawa is focused on finding long-term solutions by getting approval for new export pipelines such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project it bought in August and by pursuing Bill C-69 to reform the National Energy Board.

Following a speech at an Energy Council of Canada forum in downtown Calgary, Sohi told reporters the key to building pipelines is building trust in regulatory processes and engaging affected parties early on so that approvals aren’t overturned, as was the case with Trans Mountain.

The judge that overturned that project’s NEB approval cited a lack of meaningful consultations with Indigenous people and failure to consider marine environmental impacts.

An NEB reconsideration of the identified issues is expected to conclude by February but Sohi said he won’t put a deadline on new Indigenous consultations now underway.

Asked about an Alberta request in October for the federal government to support crude-by-rail shipments, Sohi said the Alberta request is being examined by his department but he hasn’t actually seen it.

“My administration has been engaging with the province of Alberta, their officials and the officials from other provinces to explore options, options that can work, options that are practical to implement and options that will actually give us the ability to transport Alberta resources in a way that needs to be done,” he said.

“Those are short-term solutions but the long-term solution is making sure pipeline capacity is expanded.”

Asked then what options are being considered, he said: “I don’t know what those options are. Officials are engaging with the provincial officials.”

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Alberta ramps up pressure on Ottawa to offer more than "bland assurances" on resource bill

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CALGARY – Alberta’s government is ramping up pressure on Ottawa to offer more than “bland assurances” that new legislation perceived to be harmful to the oil and gas sector will be amended.

Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips said Wednesday the federal government has not done enough to deal with the province’s concerns over Bill C-69, a contentious bill currently before the Senate that industry has said would drive away new investment in the energy sector.

Phillips said ministers in Ottawa had offered only “bland assurances” that her concerns about Bill C-69 would be addressed but added she “put hardly any stock” in those assurances because it hasn’t been followed up by any action.

Bill C-69 would re-organize the National Energy Board and establish a new review process for such major natural resources projects as pipelines and mines, but which Phillips described as being like a “black box” because little information is available on which projects would be included in the new reviews.

“In this business, where things are too important to get wrong, bland assurances don’t go anywhere near far enough. We’ve asked for specific things and they have yet to deliver,” she said at an energy conference in Calgary.

Those specific things include a reinstatement of a “standing test” for who can intervene in pipeline project reviews and a list of the types of projects that would be affected by the new act.

The Alberta government also wants the impact of downstream greenhouse gas emissions left out of the new review process.

Similarly, energy industry executives say they’ve been offered nothing concrete showing that the federal government is willing to make changes they feel are necessary to the bill, Explorers and Producers Association of Canada president Gary Leach said.

“I would certainly hope Ottawa is getting the message,” Leach said, but added that industry has lobbied the government for changes while the bill was still before the House of Commons without success. It is now before the senate.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi declined to provide a timeline for when the project list accompanying Bill C-69 would be released but said he had a series of productive meetings with Phillips on the act.

“We have been very clear that Bill C-69 will not intrude into areas of provincial jurisdiction. It will focus on areas of federal responsibility,” Sohi said.

Alberta’s NDP government and the federal Liberal government have been aligned on a number of energy and environmental issues, including carbon taxes, but Bill C-69 is driving a wedge between the two governments.

Phillips travelled to Ottawa in October to raise her concerns about the bill, which she said are still not alleviated.

“If they feel so strongly that they’ve given us assurances, then they need to amend the act,” she said.

For his part, Sohi said amendments weren’t out of the question.

“If the Senate wants to propose amendments, we will be open to that,” he said.

I’m interested in listening to the solutions, but these solutions must be workable

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi

Edmonton has been steadily ramping up pressure on the federal government to intervene quickly and help alleviate what is considered a crisis in the province, where Western Canada Select oil barrels sell for as much as US$50 per barrel less than the West Texas Intermediate benchmark.

The province asked Ottawa to buy new trains to help move oil out of Alberta and clear a glut of crude in the province, which has led to the wide price discounts.

Fitch Ratings released a report Wednesday that showed wider discounts for Canadian oil would persist even if domestic oil producers cut their output in an attempt to clear a glut of oil trapped in the province.

“I share the frustration many of us feel,” Sohi said of the discounted Canadian oil price, which is causing financial pain for oil companies and also for the royalty revenues pulled in by the provincial government.

He said he was also frustrated by recent delays to the construction of new pipelines, such as Keystone XL, and has listened to Alberta’s proposals for solving the problem.

“I’m interested in listening to the solutions, but these solutions must be workable,” he said, adding that “the long-term solution is building pipelines.”

If the US$40 discounts discounts persist through 2019, the Alberta government could see their royalty revenues fall by $5 billion, according to estimates by Peters & Co.

Canadian producers plan to curtail around 200,000 barrels of oil per day, which should overtime alleviate the depressed prices, Peters analysts said in a report published Tuesday.

• Email: gmorgan@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

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