British Airways’ treatment of staff ‘a disgrace’, say MEPs


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Most BA aircraft have been grounded since the lockdown

British Airways’ treatment of staff during the coronavirus crisis “is a national disgrace,” MPs said.

A report by the Special Transport Committee accuses the airline of a “calculated attempt to take advantage” of the pandemic by cutting thousands of jobs and downgrading conditions.

BA said it was doing everything it could to keep “the maximum number of jobs.”

But MPs said the airline’s actions were “well below the standards we would expect from any employer.”

The aviation industry has been one of the hardest hit since the pandemic forced the blockade. Airlines such as EasyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, as well as suppliers Rolls-Royce and Airbus, have announced thousands of job cuts.

BA is planning a major restructuring, which could result in up to 12,000 redundancies and changes to the terms and conditions of the remaining staff.

The airline warned the unions that if it could not agree on the proposals, it would move the issue forward by giving notice to staff and offering them new contracts.

This has outraged the unions.

Unite and GMB do not engage in talks with BA. The Balpa pilots’ union held discussions with the airline about the possibility of voluntary redundancies, but said consultations were “hanging by a thread.”

‘Fire and rehire’

MEPs acknowledged that job losses in the sector “can unfortunately be inevitable” due to the collapse of air transport. But he urged UK-based employers not to “move in haste” by making large numbers of people redundant while the government’s leave regime was in place.

The unions told the committee that BA had threatened a “fire and rehire” approach by giving redundancy notices to most of its 42,000 workers with the intention of offering jobs to some of them under reduced conditions.

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The Transport Committee found that BA had received almost 35 million euros from the government as of 14 May by dismissing 22,000 employees. MEPs also noted that by the end of 2019, the airline had recorded after-tax profits of 1.1 billion euros and had cash reserves of 2.6 billion euros.

The committee’s report said: “The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company towards its employees is a national disgrace. It falls well short of the standards we expect from any employer, [the] the scale of taxpayer subsidies at a time of national crisis.

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BA insists it will do everything it can to protect jobs, but says the airline industry is in a “new reality.”

MPs and trade unions have called for BA to be stripped of some of its lucrative take-off and landing slots at Heathrow Airport as punishment for the treatment of its staff.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the committee, said: “We will continue to put pressure where we can, including the process of allocating slots at airports. This deliberate destruction of a loyal workforce cannot seem to go without sanction by the government, parliamentarians or paying passengers, who may choose differently in the future. We see this as a national disgrace.

“Deep crisis”

Balpa stated that the committee was “bsolument d” right about BA. Brian Strutton, general secretary of the union, said: “Any company using Covide’s coverage to reduce jobs and terms and conditions as they need to be called.

“I have described the consultation talks between Balpa and BA as being suspended by a thread because of BA’s decision to issue a threat of “fire and rehire.” That remains the case.

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The airline said in a statement: “We are in the deepest crisis ever faced by the airline industry – a crisis not of our manufacture, but a crisis that we must resolve.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure that British Airways can survive and maintain the maximum number of jobs, in line with the new reality of a changing airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.”

BA is already involved in a bitter struggle with its unions and a quarrel with the government. Today, MPs also weighed in against the company.

This is a remarkable situation for BA. It was once considered a flag bearer for British values, a national champion, with the closest ties to the government – and a place where staff were delighted to work.

What’s wrong? The Covid-19 crisis has caused splurge in the airline industry, leaving previously strong companies faltering. Carriers around the world are losing jobs as they prepare for dark years.

BA is far from unique in wanting to make deep cuts. But there’s more to it than that. BA has spent the past decade trying to streamline its business to compete with low-cost start-ups such as Ryanair and EasyJet.

This has sometimes led to conflicts with its employees – and apparently created a legacy of mistrust and resentment, especially among cabin crew.

Now, during a crisis, those feelings are bubbling. Sometimes the company seems to be under siege.

The MPs’ report also urged the government to abandon its 14-day quarantine rule at the end of June.

He called for a “more targeted and nuanced border control policy,” allowing people travelling from countries where the rate of Coviide-19 infection is relatively low to enter the UK on a less restrictive basis.

On Friday, BA, EasyJet and Ryanair filed a lawsuit against the “imperfect” quarantine policy. The airlines are calling for judicial review “as soon as possible,” saying the measures introduced this week will have a “devastating effect on British tourism and the economy as a whole.”

They said they saw no evidence of when the proposed “air bridges” between the UK and other countries would be implemented. Instead, they want the government to re-adopt the policy it introduced on 10 March, which required passengers in countries deemed to be at high risk of coronavirus infection to isolate themselves upon arrival in the UK.

But Interior Minister Priti Patel insisted the policy could “help stop a second devastating wave” of the disease.

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