(CNN Business)Mercedes gave details on a number of new electric cars ahead of next week’s Munich transportation show. They include two SUV concepts -— one a rugged off-roader and the other an opulent ultra-luxury model — as well as a high-performance sedan.
Summer travel surge has WestJet and Air Canada asking for volunteer help – CBC.ca
A surge in summer travel across the country has forced Canada’s two biggest airlines to ask staff to help volunteer at airports to overcome staffing challenges — a move that is creating pushback from unions.
In an email to all employees, WestJet described how the rapid growth in passenger numbers is causing operational problems at several airports, including its flagship airport in Calgary.
The “growing pains of recovery requires all-hands-on-deck,” read the message, which included an open call for any staff members to sign up to volunteer to help guests requiring wheelchair assistance at the Calgary International Airport.
Meanwhile, Air Canada has needed extra personnel at Toronto’s Pearson airport since “airport partners are stretched beyond their capacity, which led to significant flight cancellations and missed connections,” read an internal memo.
In late August and early September, air passenger traffic reached its highest point since the pandemic began. The increase in business is critical to the aviation industry, which was devastated early on in the crisis as many countries restricted international travel.
The industry is not immune to the staffing challenges faced by many sectors as lockdowns started to lift; airlines continue to cope with changing government restrictions, while also following a variety of COVID-19 protocols at domestic and international airports.
At Toronto’s Pearson, the international arrival process can take up to three hours, as passengers are screened by Canada Border Services Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada agents, collect bags and possibly take a COVID-19 test.
“As the technology for sharing and displaying vaccine documents improves, passengers become more comfortable with the new process and vaccine-driven changes in border protections take effect, we hope to see further improvement in wait-time conditions in the terminals,” a Pearson spokesperson said in an email statement, which highlighted other steps to reduce delays.
But several unions have advised their members to avoid volunteering for a variety of reasons.
CUPE, which represents flight attendants at WestJet, declined to comment. However, in a letter, it told members that “the company is imploring you to provide free, volunteer and zero-cost labour. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.”
The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents WestJet’s pilots, also declined to comment. But in a message to members, it highlighted how “if you are injured doing this work, you may not be covered by our disability insurer.”
Unifor, which represents customer service agents at both of Canada’s major airlines, said its members were upset about the call for volunteers and the union wasn’t happy that there wasn’t any advanced warning or conversation.
“Take a group of workers that is already very stressed by the kind of operation that’s going on, the quantity of passengers, the amount of extra processes that are in place because of COVID in order to travel — and then adding these pieces on is not helpful,” said Leslie Dias, Unifor’s director of airlines.
During the pandemic, WestJet decided to outsource the work of guest-service agents, who would help passengers that require wheelchairs, assist with check-in kiosks and co-ordinate lineups.
But the contractor is struggling to provide enough workers, said Dias, and that’s why there was a call for volunteers.
After flying more than 700 flights daily in 2019, WestJet flew as few as 30 some days during the pandemic. Currently, there are more than 400 flights each day.
“WestJet, as is the case across Canada and across many industries, faces continued issues due to labour hiring challenges as a result of COVID-19,” said spokesperson Morgan Bell in an emailed statement.
“As WestJet looks ahead to recovery, we continue to work toward actively recalling and hiring company-wide, with the current expectation we will reach 9,000 fully trained WestJetters by the end of the year, which is more than twice as many WestJetters as we had at our lowest point in the pandemic some five months ago,” she said.
Air Canada said it only asked salaried management to help volunteer at Pearson airport.
Unifor said the airline was short of workers because the company didn’t have enough training capacity to accommodate recalled employees and couldn’t arrange restricted-area passes on time.
Thousands of airline workers lost their jobs, were furloughed or faced wage reductions last year, although the carriers are bringing back workers as travel activity increases.
At WestJet, its customer service agents have been recalled, according to Unifor. Many employees in other positions, though, remain out of work, including about 500 furloughed pilots.
Air Canada said it has been continually recalling employees since last spring, including more than 5,000 in July and August.
Asking for volunteers is an “unusual” occurrence in the industry, said Rick Erickson, an independent airline analyst based in Calgary. But he said it’s not surprising since cutting a workforce is much easier than building it back up.
Airlines have to retrain staff, secure valid certification and security passes, and find new hires as well.
Erickson said he even spotted WestJet CEO Ed Sims helping at the check-in counter in Calgary in recent weeks, as passenger activity was at its peak so far this year.
“This has been the most challenging time, honestly, in civil aviation history; we’ve never, ever seen anything approaching 90 per cent of your revenues drying up,” said Erickson, noting that airlines still have to watch their finances closely.
Asking employees to volunteer isn’t illegal, but it does raise some questions, said Sarah Coderre, a labour lawyer with Bow River Law LLP in Calgary.
“Whether or not it’s fair, and the sort of position it puts the employees in, if they choose not to volunteer, that would be concerning for me from a legal standpoint,” said Coderre.
Air Canada is currently operating at about 35 to 40 per cent of its 2019 flying capacity, but said one bright spot on the horizon is bookings for winter getaways toward the end of this year and the beginning of 2022.
“When looking to the sun leisure markets, we are very optimistic about our recovery,” a spokesperson said by email. “We are currently observing demand growth that is above 2019 levels.”
Why natural gas prices have surged to some of their highest levels in years – CBC.ca
Natural gas prices have climbed to some of their highest levels in years, with the increases expected to ripple into people’s gas bills as winter fast approaches.
A marriage of factors in North America and Europe — from summer storms to an overseas supply crunch — have contributed to sharp rise in the price of the fossil fuel.
Martin King, senior analyst at RBN Energy, said the Alberta spot price for natural gas was around $4.80 a gigajoule on Thursday morning. With the exception of a February price spike amid a nasty North American cold snap, it’s some of the highest prices he’s seen in years.
“It’s pretty astounding,” King said.
“We’re seeing seven-year highs for natural gas both in the U.S. and Canada and, on the international front, we’re seeing pretty much close to all-time highs in many markets worldwide.”
While those prices will help natural gas producers, it’ll have consumers facing higher gas bills at a time when they’re already paying more for housing, transportation and food.
“We’ll see how the spring and summer next year shape up,” King said. “But in the very short term, going into the winter, we’re all going to be facing higher natural gas bills.“
It’s part of an international story.
In the U.S. futures market, the natural gas contract for October climbed to over $5 US per one million British thermal units — a level not seen since February, 2014.
Reuters reported Thursday that U.S. natural gas futures slipped as storage levels improved, but one analyst told the news service it wasn’t “enough to put a ceiling on the recent rise in prices.”
Meanwhile, the price of natural gas in Europe has risen fivefold since last year, pushing power prices across the continent to their highest in over a decade.
In North America, views range on how high prices might still climb.
King said it seems like the price could potentially go a “little bit higher” into October, adding much depends on how cold things get at the start of the winter heating season.
Higher commodity prices prompted Saskatchewan’s natural gas distribution company this week to apply for an increase in the price of natural gas in the province.
SaskEnergy said the market price for natural gas has doubled since the Crown decreased its prices back in 2019.
It pointed to increased natural gas demand for power generation coupled with higher liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are contributing to increased commodity prices.
In Ontario, Enbridge Gas has applied to the regulator for an increase ranging from six to eight per cent in the rates paid by its 3.8 million customers. On an annualized basis, that represents about $60 to $80 more for the average residential customer, the company said. If approved, it would take effect on Oct. 1.
Spokesperson Andrea Stass said that through the pandemic, in 2020 and early in 2021, demand for natural gas declined and prices dipped to some of their lowest points “in many years.” The company decreased rates in July by two per cent, she said.
“We’re now at a point where our economy is recovering and demand is increasing,” Stass added.
There are several factors running through the natural gas market these days impacting prices globally.
In Europe, stockpiles of natural gas are low, the result of a witch’s brew of issues that include an unusually cold winter and maintenance work at Norwegian facilities. Power prices on the continent are “skyrocketing.”
With gas prices soaring overseas, the United States is shipping as much liquefied natural gas as it possibly can from North America, said Jeremy McCrea, director of Raymond James Energy Research in Calgary.
“It’s actually draining our gas inventories quicker than … I think a lot of guys have expected,” he said.
He also noted that the slow down that’s occurred in oil well drilling in North America has had an impact because many of those wells also produced associated natural gas.
“If you look at the one-year outlook for gas prices, you’re looking at $4 to $4.25 prices here,” McCrea said, referring to the Alberta market, “which are some of the highest levels that we’ve seen since 2014.“
Hurricane Ida also had an impact on U.S. gas production.
Higher natural gas prices should help lift provincial revenues in Alberta. It’s also expected to help Canadian gas producers that slashed operating costs amid much lower prices.
“They are very slowly and very cautiously increasing their capital spending programs,” said RBN Energy’s King.
“By nature, it’s a very cyclical industry. And just as soon as we’ve seen these strong gas prices, a warm winter could wipe out all the gains that we’ve seen very, very quickly.”
Darren Gee, president of Calgary-based Peyto Exploration & Development, said current pricing is good for the company, generating more cash flow from its natural gas production.
“We’d love to say that this [pricing] translates into then more drilling and more investment in Alberta and more jobs for Albertans,” Gee said Tuesday.
“But the challenging part is that we still … have limited amount of egress in western Canada. We can only get so much gas out to market, whether that’s to the U.S. market or to the global market.”
He said it’s also been difficult for the industry to get workers.
Citi hires Milovanovic from Goldman to head Americas financials M&A group
Citigroup Inc is hiring Steve Milovanovic to head its investment banking unit which focuses on mergers and acquisitions by financial institutions in the Americas, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters on Thursday.
Milovanovic will join from Goldman Sachs Group, where he was co-head of M&A for the financial institution’s group (FIG) in the Americas, said the memo, the contents of which were confirmed by a Citigroup spokesperson.
“Steve’s experience, judgment and client relationships will further strengthen Citi’s strategic advisory capabilities,” the memo said, noting that Milovanovic will be based in New York.
Milovanovic, who has also worked at Credit Suisse Group in his banking career, has more than 20 years of dealmaking experience, with a focus on financial services.
(Reporting by Chibuike Oguh in New York; Writing by David French; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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