Ryanair warns furlough scheme is holding back recovery

'Let's get back to work': airline boss calls for end to staff shortages hampering tourism industry

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary believes certain Covid-19 restrictions are holding back sectors such as air travel. AFP
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Ryanair has issued a warning that government employment assistance schemes brought in during the Covid-19 pandemic are now hampering economic recovery.

The airline’s chief executive Michael O’Leary said people should be encouraged to return to work rather than paid to do nothing.

He said that bringing the furlough scheme to an end would help the tourism, aviation and hospitality industries, which have already experiencing a return in customer demand.

Under the furlough scheme, the government pays up to 80 per cent of a worker’s wage up to a monthly maximum of £2,500. It has been extended several times but is now scheduled to wrap up at the end of September, despite calls for it to be continued.

The furlough scheme has been blamed partially – alongside Brexit and Covid – for a shortage of staff.

Hauliers, in particular, have been low in numbers leading to gaps on supermarket shelves because goods are not reaching their destination. Restaurants have also complained of a lack of staff.

Mr O’Leary said his firm has not struggled to find staff and has taken on workers from retail and hospitality, but the company’s handling partners had struggled to get people to come back.

“We need to shut down employment assistance schemes which make it more advantageous for people to sit at home doing nothing than to go to work," he told Sky News.

“I would like to see it ended ... to enable the hospitality, aviation and tourism industries to get back to work, doing what we do best – creating jobs.

“When I look at football stadiums full to the brim, why are there any restrictions left? Let’s scrap restrictions and get people back to work.”

The airline last month announced a first-quarter loss of €273 million ($322m), which was lower than expected.

Mr O'Leary spoke as it was announced that Ryanair would operate 14 new routes from London airports this winter.

“Ryanair is committed to rebuilding London’s tourism industry, jobs and connectivity as we grow across Europe and recover air travel to pre-Covid levels,” he said.

Ryanair said the additional routes would create more than 500 jobs for pilots, cabin crew and engineers at its London airports.

“As vaccinations and consumer confidence returns, Ryanair again calls on the UK government to scrap PCR tests for fully vaccinated arrivals,” Mr O’Leary said.

He called for the UK’s traffic-light travel system to be scrapped and brought in line with Europe.

He said being fully vaccinated or having a negative PCR test before travel should be sufficient to bring confidence and safety for passengers.

“People are desperate to get away for sunshine or short-haul travel,” he said.

“I came into London today from Brussels. Three nights ago I didn’t need to get a test but the government changed the rules and I had to rush around for a PCR test. You don’t need that additional security.”

He expressed confidence that the industry was bouncing back and that the demand for travel existed.

“It will be a much longer slog to get Americans and Asians back but European people love coming to London for breaks," he said.

“But we are being hurt by changes to the traffic lights which cause confusion. People who’ve been locked up are desperate to travel.

"We think we’re going to grow back higher volume than pre-Covid. People want to travel, it’s built into our DNA.”

The Dublin-based airline announced it would be launching flights from Stansted to destinations such as Helsinki, Stockholm and Zagreb.

Among the locations which will be served from Luton are Gran Canaria, Naples and Grenoble.

A new link to Malaga will open from Gatwick.

Last week, the UK travel industry condemned the government for failing to open up any new major holiday destinations on its green, amber and red travel lists.

Countries such as Turkey had expected to move from the red travel list to amber, which allows double-vaccinated travellers to visit a country without having to quarantine in a hotel, but no countries were moved from the red category.

Only Canada and six other territories, including Denmark, Finland and Switzerland, were added to the green list.

Updated: August 31, 2021, 4:03 PM