British Airways job cuts plan criticised as ‘national disgrace’

UK Transport Committee calls for 14-day quarantine to be axed to save airline industry

FILE PHOTO: British Airways planes are seen parked at Bournemouth Airport, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Bournemouth, Britain, April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Paul Childs/File Photo

British Airways’ plan to cut 12,000 jobs has been described as a “national disgrace” by UK politicians.

A report by the Transport Committee on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector heavily criticises BA, accusing it of engaging in a “calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs”.

It concludes aviation employers should not proceed with large-scale redundancies and restructuring to employment terms until the government's job retention scheme ends in October and they have had the opportunity to consider the Government’s plans to help the sector restart and recover.

The report, which explores the gravity of the crisis facing Britain’s aviation sector, says decisions about people’s livelihoods should not be made prematurely.

It comes as several airlines have announced redundancies, despite accessing the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, designed to help businesses severely affected by the pandemic to retain employees and protect the economy.

BA and its parent company, International Airlines Group, are currently conducting a consultation on staffing changes to cut 12,000 jobs and downgrade the terms and conditions of approximately 35,000 employees. The consultation is due to end on June 15.

Separately, the airline is said to be considering selling off some of its art collection to help generate revenue, according to a report in London's Evening Standard.

“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 chairman of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, said.

“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.

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World's aircraft parked up in Spain

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“We looked closely at BA’s plans to consult on at least 12,000 redundancies and change the terms and conditions of the bulk of its employees. 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 workforce 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.”

The committee is recommending that the government revises the rules of its job retention scheme to prevent firms from making large-scale redundancies or “strongly penalise” those that do.

It has raised the issue of some politicians calling for BA to be stripped of some of its lucrative slots and is recommending that the Competition and Markets Authority conducts an investigation into their allocation.

The committee has also called for the government to abandon its blanket 14-day quarantine period at the end of June on the grounds that it will damage the recovery of the sector and the wider economy.

It urged the government to adopt a more flexible and risk-based approach to border control, using alternatives such as targeted quarantines, air bridges and temperature screening.

In defending its decision, the government should clearly set out the evidence it used to reach its decision, it said.

On Friday BA, easyJet and Ryanair launched legal action against the UK government's quarantine policy in an attempt to overturn what they see as excessively strict rules.

All three airlines had hoped to resume regular flights after air travel came to a near-total standstill during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to about 20,000 job losses between them.

But Britain's 14-day quarantine, introduced on June 8 for arrivals from abroad, is deterring bookings at a time when other European countries are beginning to open their borders.

The airlines have lodged their complaint with the High Court in London asking for a judicial review as soon as possible.

Thousands of passengers who had booked holidays and flights are still waiting for refunds from airlines and travel operators.

The committee is also calling on the government to consider whether protections for passengers can be built in to the planned Airline Insolvency Bill.

MPs also recommend that the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority, responsible for enforcing current rules, conduct a speedy review of its powers to ensure it can enforce the rights of passengers in an effective and timely way.

It also calls for a strategy for the aviation sector to be developed as soon as possible.

To stimulate demand and protect businesses, the committee recommends a six-month suspension of air passenger duty payments and 12-month business-rates relief for airlines and airports across the UK, as is currently the case in Scotland.

“Few industries have been affected more by the coronavirus pandemic than aviation,” Mr Merriman added. “Thousands of planes and thousands of passengers have been grounded, resulting in a 97 per cent reduction in passenger flights compared with the previous year.

“This vital sector of the UK economy could lose more than £20 billion [Dh92bn] in revenue. The government must press on with a collaborative strategy for recovery.

“It is imperative that the UK government finds a way to get aviation back on its feet. We don’t believe this fits with a blanket 14-day quarantine period for travellers to the UK.  In today’s report, we recommend a more agile response.

“Passenger confidence in airlines and travel operators, dented by unnecessarily difficult refund processes, must be rebuilt. We recommend the government considers whether new protections for passengers should be introduced ahead of future pandemics or other extraordinary circumstances.”

The committee’s inquiry is part of a wider look at the impact of coronavirus on UK transport.

The UK has the largest aviation network in Europe and the third- biggest in the world with around 2.2m flights a year.