British Airways set to suspend 30,000 staff due to coronavirus pandemic

Airline’s flying capacity to be cut by three quarters in April and May

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 is expected to suspend more than30,000 staff to help the company weather the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The British flag airline has reduced flights and said it would need to cut costs if it is to survive the crisis.

Following talks, the Unite union, which represents thousands of BA employees, said on Thursday it had reached an agreement with the company about how workers will be protected during the coronavirus crisis.

Unite national officer for aviation Oliver Richardson said the "best possible" deal had been agreed which will ensure workers will be furloughed on 80 per cent pay.

However, unlike the UK government scheme, there will be no cap on earnings.

“Given the incredibly difficult circumstances that the entire aviation sector is facing this is as good a deal as possible for our members," Mr Richardson said.

“The deal protects the jobs of BA staff and, as far as possible, also protects their pay.

“This is what can and should be done to protect workers during this unprecedented time for the airline sector.”

The deal also allows workers to divert their pension contributions into their pay for a short period of time and redundancies and unpaid temporary lay offs have been halted.

The deal will now be circulated to Unite’s BA members for their final approval.

Trade union GMB said on Thursday: “GMB and our sister union Unite have fought hard to secure members’ terms, conditions and job security.

“We believe the current deal, which is nearing its conclusion, secures this.

“But there are significant challenges for the aviation industry and whilst this current deal gives security for BA staff now, the government can’t take its eye off the ball.”

The deal is understood to involve 80 per cent of BA’s 45,000-strong workforce, excluding pilots.

Owned by IAG, BA has already suspended flights from Britain’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, and London’s City Airport.

It has been in talks with Unite for a week to agree a plan that will enable it to suspend staff, including cabin crew, ground staff, engineers and those in head office, without having to make them redundant.

The company has already agreed terms with pilots to take  unpaid leave in April and May.

A representative for Unite said: "Unite has been working around the clock to protect thousands of jobs and to ensure the UK comes out of this unprecedented crisis with a viable aviation sector."

With planes unable to fly because of travel restrictions and a plunge in demand over coronavirus fears, airlines worldwide have grounded most of their fleets, and many have said they need government support to survive.

Data firm OAG said the aviation industry was less than half the size it was in mid-January, just before countries started announcing coronavirus cases outside China.

Britain has launched a job-retention programme that covers 80 per cent of someone's salary, capped at a maximum of £2,500 a month, but rival Virgin Atlantic has said it would need additional financial help to avoid going bust.


Parked planes around the world


On Monday, airline easyJet said that it had grounded its entire fleet.

In Germany, Lufthansa has cut the hours of 31,000 employees.

European airlines are expected to lose £63 billion (Dh287.75bn/US$78.34bn) in passenger revenue this year thanks to cancelled flights because of travel bans, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Iata predicts airlines will lose £203bn globally.