British unions have targeted corporate customers and backers of British Airways in a campaign against proposed pay cuts on top of 12,000 redundancies because of the Covid-19 crisis.
The airline has raised millions of dollars in loans, tapped a government-backed lending plan and announced job cuts of more than a quarter of its workforce as it grapples with the sharp down-turn in the travel industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Unite union claims that the airline wants to use the crisis as a cover to cut costs under a plan to “fire and rehire” its 42,000 staff under worse conditions. More than half of the airline’s staff are already being paid under a government scheme to pay workers who are at risk of losing their jobs because of Covid-19.
In a message to staff in April, BA chief executive Alex Cruz said it was talking with unions to “reimagine and reshape our airline” but did not mention wholesale changes to pay and conditions.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said last week that he was concerned about the way that some companies were treating their workforce.
“I’m well aware of some of the issues that are starting to arise,” he said, while declining to single out BA during a grilling by senior MPs. “People should not be using furlough to cynically keep people on their books and then get rid of them.”
The Unite union has campaigned outside the offices of major corporates with links to BA including Vodafone, Barclays Bank and Microsoft as part of its high-visibility publicity campaign. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition calling on the UK government to take action against the company.
Last week, it beamed “BA Betrayal” on to the outside of parliament and Harrods, the Qatari-owned store, to highlight the 25 per cent stake held by Qatar Airways in the International Airlines Group, the owner of BA.
The campaign to persuade the airline to change course has been backed by Huw Merriman, a member of the ruling party and chairman of a parliamentary committee that examines the transport industry.
“BA are making huge numbers of loyal staff redundant and downgrading terms and conditions whilst using taxpayers’ money from the furlough scheme,” he said on Twitter.
A BA spokesman said the airline was facing the deepest structural change in the history of the industry.
"We are acting now to protect as many jobs possible," he said. "We are committed to consulting openly with our unions and our people as we prepare for a new future."
Other airlines with significant operations in the UK, including EasyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, have also announced plans to shed thousands of jobs as the majority of their aircraft remain grounded.
Unions called for a bespoke plan to help the sector. The airline industry faces further woes with the introduction of a 14-day quarantine in June to try to prevent a second outbreak.
The International Air Transport Association has forecast that global airlines will lose some $314 billion in 2020 revenues on the back of Covid-19.