The chief executive of British Airways’ parent company has rejected claims the airline is a “national disgrace” amid scathing criticism of the UK flag carrier for its treatment of employees.
Britain’s parliamentary Transport Committee had accused BA of taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak to introduce large-scale redundancies and restructuring of employment terms that could see workers face a pay cut of up to 70 per cent.
But Willie Walsh, boss of IAG, insisted the company had acted lawfully as pressure mounted on the aviation industry.
"British Airways is fighting for its survival, in the face of overwhelming and unprecedented challenges, while respecting the fundamental British value of the rule of law. This is not a disgrace," Mr Walsh wrote in a letter to the committee.
BA is engaged in a battle with unions and in legal action against the government over a quarantine policy that requires all international arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days.
A consultation on staffing changes to cut 12,000 jobs and downgrade the terms and conditions of approximately 35,000 employees was due to expire on June 15.
"We will continue to 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 national and global economy," Mr Walsh said.
BA has been heavily criticised by employees, MPs and customers for its treatment of staff who say they are shell-shocked by the airline’s conduct. There have been calls for it to be stripped of its flag carrier status.
The airline is burning through £20 million (Dh92.6m) a day as the aviation industry struggles to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Despite this, Huw Merriman, who heads the Transport Committee, said BA’s conduct was unacceptable.
“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,” he 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.”
Mr Merriman said the committee had carefully examined BA’s actions.
“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.”
Separately, Spain’s foreign minister said British travellers visiting the country could be quarantined in a tit-for-tat move after the UK government introduced a similar policy last week.
Arancha Gonzalez Laya said she hoped Britain would lift its restriction, making a reciprocal Spanish one unnecessary.
"We will be in a dialogue with the UK to see whether or not we should be introducing reciprocity as they have different measures than the rest of the European Union,” she said.