MONTREAL — Via Rail is temporarily laying off about 1,000 unionized employees as the company copes with interrupted routes and reduced travel demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, as we don’t anticipate ridership to be back to pre-COVID-19 levels in the foreseeable future, we had to make difficult decisions to deal with the situation as we gain a better understanding of the impacts of the pandemic on our operations,” Cynthia Garneau, Via’s president and CEO, said in a statement Wednesday.
The layoffs take effect on July 24. Affected employees will receive a temporary written layoff notice that respects their collective agreement’s terms, the Montreal-based company said. It will maintain access to different programs for the employees.
The company is working to advance its service resumption plan and has seen some recent positive developments, though many routes remain interrupted.
Winnipeg to Churchill is the sole route in service, according to Via Rail’s website, which was last updated June 26.
Several routes have partially resumed, while Toronto to Niagara Falls, Toronto to Vancouver, and Montreal to Halifax remain interrupted with all trains cancelled. Some of those routes are slated to resume service Nov. 1.
Via Rail said it plans to bring back employees “as soon as the customer demand allows it.”
The passenger rail service has faced a rough year with rail blockades impacting service earlier in 2020.
“The current year has been filled with unprecedented challenges,” said Garneau.
The company temporarily laid off roughly the same number of employees in B.C. and Ontario during rail blockades in the winter. The company said in March that most of those employees would be brought back early that month.
Some routes in those provinces were halted when protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation blocked railways across Canada.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.
The Canadian Press