A report by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee has branded British Airways as a ‘national disgrace’ over its plans to fire all 42,000 employees and rehire 30,000 of them under new contracts with lower pay.
The report which was published today recognises that the industry has been badly hit by the Coronavirus Pandemic which has shown itself with job cuts almost every aerospace company in the UK.
But the committee singled out British Airways which it said was trying to take advantage of the pandemic to get rid of more expensive legacy contracts such as Worldwide and Eurofleet cabin crew and introduce new contracts with lower pay and reduced benefits.
This was backed up yesterday in a leaked email which showed British Airways has offered voluntary redundancy to Worldwide and Eurofleet crews but was not offering it to the Mixed Fleet staff who are already paid less.
“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. It falls well below the standards expected from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis. It is unacceptable that a company would seek to drive this level of change under the cover of a pandemic.
“We looked closely at BA’s plans to consult on at least 12000 redundancies and change the terms and conditions of the bulk of its employees. Many submitted written evidence to our inquiry and we thank them. As a committee, we have sought to examine this further and drive change using the means open to us through the House, asking Urgent Questions, seeking debates, introducing legislation and putting questions directly to the Prime Minister. We will continue to bring pressure where we can, including the airport slot allocation process. This wanton destruction of a loyal work force cannot appear to go without sanction – by Government, parliamentarians or paying passengers who may choose differently in future. We view it is as a national disgrace.”Huw Merriman MP, Chair of the Transport Committee.
It should be made clear that British Airways is not the only UK airline to cut jobs. Virgin Atlantic, Easyjet and Ryanair have also laid staff off and the airline points out that the forecasts are for 124,000 job losses unless the British Government extends proper support for the industry.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for British Airways said: “Mr Merriman made clear several weeks ago that the Transport Select Committee’s report would be ‘fuelled by the kind and impassioned messages’ he received, rather than the facts.
“The facts are clear. The Government has no plans to help the sector restart and recover as evidenced by the introduction of the 14 day quarantine regulation. 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. 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 changed airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.“
The report also recommends the temporary suspension of Air Passenger Duty and business rate relief for the aviation sectors in a bid to stimulate recovery post-pandemic.
The committee also criticised the governments 14-day quarantine which it said would damage the industries recovery.
This was welcomed by airlines including Ryanair which had previously called the plan useless.
A spokesperson for the Irish budget airline said: “We welcome and support this report by the House of Commons which calls on the UK Govt to abandon its damaging (and useless) 14-day visitor quarantine.“
British Airways has been asked to comment on the the reports findings.
Refunds for Passengers
Airlines also came under criticism for not refunding passengers fast enough, or in many cases trying to force credit notes instead of a cash refund.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) thinks that the current provisions for penalising companies failing to meet their obligations on passenger refunds would take to long and be difficult to implement.
The report asks the the Department of Transport and the CAA to undertake an urgent review into how it can enforce the rights of passengers easily and quickly to ensure airlines comply.
Strategy for Recovery
Finally, the report makes recommendations for a strategy of recovery for the aviation sectors.
The report says “We recommend that the Department for Transport, working with other Government departments, the devolved administrations and those within the industry, publishes a strategy for the restart and recovery of the aviation sector as soon as possible. This strategy must include details as to how the Department will rapidly restore passenger air travel and in particular set out plans to:
- minimise job losses in the sector while protecting pay, employee rights and health and safety standards;
- ensure passenger confidence with an internationally agreed standard of passenger health protection;
- minimise disruption and complexity for passengers;
- work on an international basis to re-examine the airport slot allocation process to ensure it encourages competition and connectivity;
- assess the economic impact of reduced passenger services on the transport of air freight and examine the viability of alternatives, such as increasing the number of dedicated freight planes;
- protect regional connectivity within the UK and international strategic trade links; and
- ensure the industry delivers its environmental obligations.
- We request that the Department provide a progress report to this Committee by 1 July 2020 on its strategy for the restart and recovery of the aviation sector.