British Airways workers decry ‘dark and sinister’ job cuts

Airline staff are fearful for the future as UK flag carrier plans thousands of layoffs

British Airways planes sit on the apron at Bournemouth airport in southern England on May 6, 2020. British Airways is set to slash up to 12,000 jobs as part of a restructuring plan as the carrier grapples with the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic. / AFP / Ben STANSALL

British Airways has been accused of “dark and sinister” tactics after the UK flag carrier threatened to impose thousands of involuntary redundancies and swingeing pay cuts.

Employees have explained how scared they are over their futures especially at the time of a global pandemic amid fears they will no longer be able to support their families.

One staff member said it felt like being “ripped apart” and added the airline failed to “treat us with any integrity”. Another long-term BA worker said he didn’t feel qualified to do anything else and that he was now “sort of on the scrap heap, really”.

Union representatives and lobbyists say the airline is using the crippling financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to cut 12,000 jobs, and then fire and rehire remaining employees on “drastically” reduced salaries and with worse terms and conditions.

The MP for Beaconsfield, Joy Morrissey, said that she was “dismayed and disappointed by the behaviour” of BA, while the head of the UK Parliament’s transport committee, Huw Merriman, questioned whether the airline deserves its flag-carrier status.

BA Betrayal, a campaign organised by the Unite union lobbying the government to help change the airline’s plans, says some of the more than 42,000 employees will be allowed to return only if they accept pay cuts as severe as 70 per cent by mid-June.

A BA employee said she had been beset by a “consant state of stress and worry” that has been exacerbated by the isolation stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.

"I don't sleep, it's hard to think about anything else. I have a family and I feel worried for the future of my child because I need to be able to support him but, because of the situation, I feel helpless," she told The National.

“I don’t recognise the actions of the company, British Airways, that uses our national flag and I’ve dedicated years to. These actions are dark and sinister and calculated.

“It feels like an attack on myself and my years of working hard for this company and they’ve left me feeling broken and that I’m not worth anything.”

While there is an acceptance that there will be changes because of the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the travel industry, there is anger at BA senior management and its holding company, International Airlines Group, over what are seen as “opportunistic” measures.

“I don’t know what it is about British Airways but when you see your fleet of aircraft parked up and you see the British flag, you take pride, you want to be able to carry out your duties with integrity and yet the management want anything but that,” said the staff member.

“When we look at that flag and see ourselves as British Airways, we feel like we’re being ripped apart and that our flag is being ripped apart.  That’s the only way I could describe the feeling.”

Airlines have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic with passenger demand plummeting and restrictions on travel expected to continue for the foreseeable future. BA has furloughed around half of its staff, relying on the UK government’s Job Retention Scheme to fund 80 per cent of their wages.

A cabin crew member with more than 30 years of experience said he would “almost certainly” lose his house if the proposals go ahead. He also is supporting his mother in a care home.

"It's just an awful, awful time when you're just concerned your entire life is going to just disappear, everything you've worked hard for will just all go." He fears he's not qualified to do anything else, "sort of on the scrap heap really," he told The National.

Mr Merriman, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle and chairman of the parliamentary committee that scrutinises the transport industry, has backed calls for BA to change its course.

“Do we really want our national flag used by a company who, in my view, are using this [pandemic] in a cynical manner to slash the terms and conditions of their staff at a time when their staff can't do anything about it? Is that where we want our Union Jack placed? Not in my view,” he told ITV News.

BA says it is “acting now to protect as many jobs possible” and has called for more dialogue with the unions.

“The airline industry is facing the deepest structural change in its history, as well as facing a severely weakened global economy,” the company said.