A group of MPs from all sides of the Commons is absolutely correct in its denunciation of British Airways' treatment of its staff, the leader of the UK's most influential trade union has said today (Saturday 13 June).

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was responding to the publication of the Transport Select Committee's inquiry into the aviation sector's reaction to the Covid-19 crisis in which it singles out BA for fierce and unique criticism.

The damning report concludes that the airline's current consultation on staffing changes “is a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs and weaken the terms and conditions of its remaining employees”. 

In a further reflection of the committee's fury, it condemns BA's behaviour, and that of its parent company IAG, towards its employees as “a national disgrace” adding that “it falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis.”

The committee's report is just the latest in a long and growing chorus of criticism, ranging from the chancellor and the aviation minister to public figures like Piers Morgan and Ricky Gervais, who have variously expressed shock at the company's misuse of the furlough scheme and Bank of England loans to fund the business while it `fires and rehires' every one of its 42,000 workers, and horror at the mistreatment of a loyal and dedicated workforce.

Such is the anger at the company's conduct, calls are mounting for the government to strip BA of some of its slots, particularly at Heathrow airport, a call made by Unite in response to the airline's `industrial thuggery', arguing that a much-reduced and socially irresponsible company should not be rewarded with lucrative flight times and routes.

The union has also condemned the airline for singling out the UK arm of IAG - which contributes 66 per cent of the group's profit - for savage attacks on jobs and pay while the terms for workers across the rest of the group are left intact.  The assault on UK jobs comes while the group seeks to purchase another airline, Air Europa, at a cost of one billion euros. Further, no other airline has approached the crisis in such a brutal fashion; Ryanair's CEO has taken a pay cut and has said that staff wage cuts will be reversed at the earliest opportunity.

Commenting, Len McCluskey said: "The transport committee's report pulls no punches and is absolutely correct to denounce British Airway's conduct in such unique and unequivocal terms. 

"Outside of the BA boardroom bunker, it is hard to find one, single defender of the actions and supporter of the airline's plans.  Once again, BA has shown that if there is a wrong way to go about things, then that is the reckless path that it will choose.

"The case the company makes for sacking 12,000 and trashing the wages of those who stay on the workforce is full of holes because it is a transparent effort to generate profits out of a crisis.  BA is fooling nobody.  The parent company easily has the cash and assets to weather this storm, and if it did not then it would not contemplate for one moment the one billion pound purchase of another airline.

"BA has infuriated MPs because it is using taxpayers' money and the chancellor's well-intentioned jobs retention scheme to keep cash in the business while destroying tens of thousands of UK jobs, ruining people's lives and destabilising the whole of UK aviation into the bargain.

"Never before has the country witnessed such wholesale mistreatment of a UK workforce and such brutal industrial thuggery.  MPs are totally right to say that this must be stopped, and that if the company refuses to behave responsibly towards the workers and the nation that makes its profits, then it is correct that it loses its lucrative Heathrow slots to an airline that will invest in the people and businesses of this country.

"We welcome the committee's calls too for BA to set aside its weapon - its programme of mass sackings - so that proper discussions about an acceptable way out of this short-term crisis can be held.  

"BA's board is in a terrible hole but it is entirely of their own making; my advice would be, stop digging.  Work with us on a way back while there is still a sliver of possibility for discussion.  I repeat, my phone is always on and my door is always open."

In respect of BA, the Transport select committee's report states:

  • That British Airways’ current consultation on staffing changes is a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs and weaken the terms and conditions of its remaining employees. 
  • "The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company towards its employees is a national disgrace. It falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis."
  • British Airways should “extend its consultation period to allow meaningful consultation to take place as per its legal requirements, and without pre-conditions, so that all parties can consider the proposed staffing changes in the context of the Government’s plans to help the aviation sector restart and recover.”
  • It also urges all UK-based aviation employers “not to proceed hastily with large scale redundancies or restructuring to terms or conditions of employees until the Job Retention Scheme ends in October 2020 and they have had the opportunity to consider the government’s plans to help the sector restart and recover.”
  • That the government “revise the rules of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to prevent, or strongly penalise, companies for making large-scale redundancies, while in receipt of funds from the taxpayer."
  • That it notes “calls from parliamentarians for the Government to strip British Airways from some of its slots, especially from Heathrow Airport where it is the dominant airline”.
  • Asks the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority to “explore every avenue available to ensure that recent changes and their impact on the availability and distribution of airport slots do not unfairly impact passengers”.
  • That this should include referring “the whole aviation industry to the Competition and Markets Authority for a market study and possible investigation on slot allocations”.
  • The committee also asks the government to publish a strategy for the restart and recovery of the aviation sector including “work on an international basis to re-examine the airport slot allocation process to ensure it encourages competition and connectivity."

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