Saturday, 13 June 2020

British Airways called a 'national disgrace' by politicians over jobs policy

The  UK's Transport Select Committee of MP's has called the national airline, British Airways a national disgrace over its new jobs policy.  The politicians said the carrier and it's parent company IAG, were trying to take advantage of the current coronavirus crisis to dramatically downgrade employees terms,  conditions and wages, whilst also shedding at least 12,000 jobs.

“It is unacceptable that a company would seek to drive this level of change under the cover of a pandemic,” Huw Merriman, the conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle who chairs the committee said at the weekend.

In a rather scathing report, released on Saturday, the committee found it was inevitable there would be some job losses at British Airways because of the downturn in business caused by the pandemic, but slammed the airline for taking more than £35 million pounds a month from the UK Government in furlough payments, as well as being granted a massive £300 million guaranteed bank loan from the Bank of England, to then axe so many staff and then effectively put the entire workforce of cabin crew and pilots on notice. They would then need to reapply for their jobs, those accepted will have to agree on lower wages, drops in seniority as well as other negative changes in their terms and conditions. 

Merriman, said: "The impact of coronavirus may sadly mean that the loss of some jobs in the aviation sector is justified. The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company, IAG, is not."

The report also says."The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company towards its employees is a national disgrace. It falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis.” 

MPs would continue to bring pressure on the firm to change its plans, Merriman said, if it doesn't, it could find that it is forced to give up a "large" number of take-off and landing slots at London Heathrow -  the UK's busiest airport and the airlines home base. "This wanton destruction of a loyal workforce cannot appear to go without sanction – by government, parliamentarians or paying passengers who may choose differently in future."

The airline's management has fired back, claiming the report was worthless as it was “fuelled by impassioned messages” and factually baseless, stating “The government has no plans to help the sector restart and recover.". Which is rather rich from a carrier that is raking in more than £35 million a month to pay staff wages and the massive loan its got from the government.  

The airline implies the current situation has been caused by the UK Government,  "We find ourselves in the deepest crisis ever faced by the airline industry. A crisis not of our making but one which we must address."

British Airways is seeking a judicial review over the Government's recently imposed 14-day quarantine procedure enacted to safe lives and stop the spread of the virus.  "We will do everything in our power to ensure that British Airways can survive and sustain the maximum number of jobs consistent with the new reality of a changing airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.". 

The report also found fault with the government, saying ministers should have acted sooner into the crisis with a more developed long term strategy and that it should think again about the 14-day self-quarantine policy, introduce a more risk-based one. The MPs has also called for a cessation, albeit, temporarily, of air passenger duty tax as well as a pause on business rates for the airline sector.  

A government spokesperson said at the weekend "We encourage businesses to respect the spirit of measures such as the job retention scheme. However, we stand ready to support those who may still lose their jobs."

Adding "We continue to work at speed to help protect the long-term future of the sector. However, we will always put public health first, and we must not risk an extremely damaging second wave of the virus.".

As the battle of words between the airline and the government with input from the unions continue,  the only real people to suffer are the British Airways employees, who face a very uncertain future.  Even if they are lucky and offered their jobs back, they will be doing so with poorer terms and conditions. If they don't, they are heading into an already depressed aviation employment sector, that had already been hit hard even before the coronavirus pandemic struck by the collapse of flyBe. Their future in the aviation sector is, at best rather precarious, at worse, is non-existent.  Our thoughts are with you as you face this uncertain future at a time of global crisis. 

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