The union representing Air Canada flight attendants canceled its planned strike after Canada's Conservative government asked the Canada Industrial Relations Board to hear the case.
Labor Minister Lisa Raitt submitted two referrals to the quasi-judicial board Wednesday afternoon, automatically ending the possibility of a legal strike until the board completes its review.
The minister asked the board to consider whether the 6,800 employees should be considered essential workers. She also asked the board to consider either imposing a settlement or sending the dispute to binding arbitration.
The flight attendants had planned to strike just after midnight into early Thursday, a move that would have disrupted travel at Canada's biggest air carrier and affected thousands of travelers across the country and abroad.
But Canada Industrial Relations Board executive director Ginette Brazeau said the government referral to the board suspends the right to strike.
"The parties cannot resort to their right to strike or lockout until such time as the board disposes of this particular referral," Brazeau said.
Brazeau couldn't say how long it would take the labor board to deal with Raitt's referral but most observers believe it won't happen before Parliament resumes sitting on Monday, when back-to-work legislation could be used by the Conservative government to prevent a service disruption at Canada's largest airline.
"Our government received a strong mandate to protect the Canadian economy and Canadian jobs," Raitt said in a statement Wednesday.
The union said in a statement that the minister's intervention with the labor board postpones the calling of a strike until the question of essential services has been ruled on.
The flight attendants' union has been negotiating with the Montreal-based airline for months. Union leaders had predicted a revamped offer would be approved but the membership turned it down last Sunday.
Air Canada's desire to start a low-cost carrier using lower paid new hires is just one of several issues that likely prompted a second rejection of a tentative deal. Workers fear this model will create a dangerous precedent that could be transferred to the mainline carrier.
Workers also felt increased pay during layovers, and a 9 percent overall wage increase over four years wasn't enough compensation for sacrifices made since the airline obtained creditor protection in 2003.
About 3,800 Air Canada customer sales and service representatives held a three-day strike in June, but Raitt introduced back-to-work legislation two days into it.
Air Canada and its regional partners carry about 31 million passengers a year