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'This is devastating news': WestJet to layoff 6,900 employees

Last Updated Mar 25, 2020 at 6:25 am MDT

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – WestJet is the latest major company to announce layoffs due to COVID-19.

The company announced 6,900 employees were given notices of both voluntary and involuntary leave of absences. The airline had approximately 14,000 employees before this announcement.

“This is devastating news for all WestJetters,” said CEO Ed Sims. “The fact that we avoided a potentially worse outcome is testament to the spirit and selfless attitude demonstrated by our people, who have enabled WestJet to continue operating with a collective remaining workforce of 7,100.”

The first wave of departures is set for Wednesday and the second for April 1.

The Calgary-based company has cancelled all international flights for 30 days and, like Air Canada, severely scaled back domestic capacity.

Up to 600 Air Canada pilots will also go on unpaid leave in the coming months due to the fallout from the virus, their union said Tuesday.

Previously, the company released more than 80 per cent of its contract workforce and instituting a hiring freeze. This was on top of measures to suspend commercial operations of international and trans-border flights.

RELATED: WestJet suspending commercial operations in response to COVID-19

The airline’s executive team also took a 50 per cent pay cut, while vice-presidents and directors cut their pay by 25 per cent.

WestJet said it was also working with its unions and employee associations to work through the details of voluntary leaves and salary cuts.

“We could not have achieved what was required without the support and collaboration of our union leadership and the leaders of our employee associations,” said Sims. “It is through these WestJetters’ sacrifices that we can preserve a core of people who will remain employed to prepare for the moment when the situation stabilizes, and we can look to rise again.”

Earlier this week Transat AT announced it was laying off 3,600 employees. Last week Air Canada announced over 5,000 workers would be out of a job due to the impact of the coronavirus.