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House of Commons “condemns behaviour of British Airways” which “is a national disgrace”

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The House of Commons Transport Committee published its report yesterday into the impact of cornavirus on the aviation sector, including the proposed restructuring of British Airways.  It did not mince its words.

Regular HFP readers will know that Willie Walsh, Chairman and CEO of IAG, BA’s parent company, appeared before the Committee recently to explain what is happening to British Airways staff.  As we have covered in various articles, cabin crew, pilots and some other functions are under threat of total redundancy – for all staff – with only statutory redundancy pay.  The airline will then choose which employees it wishes to rehire, on new contracts which offer lower pay and weaker contractual rights.

(In the last few days, there has been some movement from British Airways.   It appears that some groups, in particular legacy cabin crew, may be offered a modest voluntary redundancy package.)

You can read the full report here.

The headline conclusions were:

  • The committee report condemns the behaviour of British Airways and its parent company towards its employees “during a time of international crisis”
  • The blanket 14 day quarantine period should be abandoned at end of June in favour of a more flexible and risk-based approach to border control
  • The Government needs to pick up pace on a recovery strategy for the aviation sector

House of Commons Transport Committee condemns British Airways

Here are some quotes from the report summary.  Bolding is ours.  Note that Huw Merriman is a Conservative MP.

UK-based airlines and other aviation employers should not proceed hastily with large scale redundancies and restructuring to employees’ terms and conditions 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, say MPs.

In a report exploring the gravity of the crisis facing the UK’s aviation sector, the Transport Committee says fundamental decisions about people’s livelihoods should not be made prematurely.  Several aviation companies have announced redundancies, despite accessing the Government’s Job Retention Scheme designed to help businesses severely affected by the pandemic to retain employees and protect the economy. 

The actions of British Airways and parent company, International Airlines Group, draw particular criticism. The committee’s view is that BA’s current consultation on staffing changes is a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut 12,000 jobs and to downgrade the terms and conditions of approximately 35,000 employees. The consultation is due to end on June 15th.

Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:

“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. 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.

“We looked closely at BA’s plans to consult on at least 12000 redundancies and change the terms and conditions of the bulk of its employees. Many submitted written evidence to our inquiry and we thank them.  As a committee, we have sought to examine this further and drive change using the means open to us through the House, asking Urgent Questions, seeking debates, introducing legislation and putting questions directly to the Prime Minister. We will continue to bring pressure where we can, including the airport slot allocation process.  This wanton destruction of a loyal work force 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.”

House of Commons Transport Committee condemns British Airways

On the issue of the 14 day quarantine for UK arrivals:

The introduction of a 14 day blanket quarantine for travellers to the UK from other countries will damage the recovery of the sector and the wider economy, says the report.

Should the conditions allow in late June, the Committee calls for the quarantine policy to be abandoned when it is next reviewed and urges Government to introduce a more flexible and risk-based approach to border control, using alternatives such as targeted quarantines, ‘air bridges’ and temperature screening. In defending its decision, the Government should clearly set out the evidence it used to reach its decision.

Huw Merriman MP continued:

“Few industries have been affected more by the coronavirus pandemic than aviation. Thousands of planes, and thousands of passengers, have been grounded, resulting in a 97% reduction in passenger flights compared to the previous year.  This vital sector of the UK economy could lose more than £20 billion in revenue. Government must press on with a collaborative strategy for recovery. 

It is imperative that the UK Government finds a way to get aviation back on its feet. We don’t believe this fits with a blanket 14 day quarantine period for travellers to the UK.  In today’s report, we recommend a more agile response. We also outline our support for a temporary suspension of Air Passenger Duty payments and support with business rates. 

“Passenger confidence in airlines and travel operators, dented by unnecessarily difficult refund processes, must be rebuilt. We recommend the Government considers whether new protections for passengers should be introduced ahead of future pandemics or other extraordinary circumstances.”

You can find out more in the full report here.

Comments (74)

  • SS says:

    I love how BA executives talk about overblown cabin crew salaries….is that not pot calling the kettle? I wonder how many senior BA staff on six figure salaries are being made redundant? Are they going on lower salaries too? I would hazard a guess – probably not but happy to be corrected.

    • George says:

      All BA staff, including senior managers, are facing changes. The number of senior managers is also being reduced (at least that’s what’s happening in my department).

  • the_real_a says:

    From the opposite prospective though. Ive secured investment in the UK based on the fact that we dont have such things as German style work councils. Even with internal type budget discussions such “protections” are major concerns particularly for investment from the US and China. These are not minimum wage exploitative jobs btw, but its difficult for any investment decision to be made for the lifetime of the employee. These jobs still exist, once you have a physical presence its a 1000% easier to retain them than remove them. Most employers are not there to screw employees.

  • William Reid says:

    Unfortunately the House of Commons committe is all talk and no action. Too much time spent in the UK ” bending the knee” & boarding up statues to please the extreme left wingers rather than bothering about what was at one time the greatest airline in the world.
    BA Mgmt will do exactly what BA want to do.

    • Nik says:

      And also how you could bring this up in the first and compare it or even talk about in the context of blooming BA’s proposed redundancies only goes to show further how disjointed your thinking must be to put the two together in one sentence. Go ahead now with the trolling/abuse…

      • Nik says:

        Oh and I forgot why on Earth should the UK government “waste” its time anyway pondering over BA? If it genuinely sincerely wanted to change something, it would change the whole employment law as a whole for every employee in this country. But I don’t see any sign of that happening!

  • Nick G says:

    I’m not agreeing with everything
    BA does or the way it does it but how would those employees who work for BA feel if everyone stayed on the same contracts until the day it announced it went bankrupt. Would your legacy or other wise view of how you were paid have any bearing? I doubt it and I’m sure the headlines would be how did BA let this happen!

    It’s not right but I do think BA is just planning for the future rough ride ahead for the aviation industry as a whole

  • Colin MacKinnon says:

    Has no-one seen the Mail on Sunday’s two articles, putting BA’s side?

    https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/comment/article-8417313/British-Airways-boss-Alex-Cruz-blasts-airlines-critics.html

    and

    https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-8417321/BA-boss-hits-Alex-Cruz-defends-plans-axe-jobs.html

    Interestingly, no-one seems to have commented on either of them!

    • marcw says:

      As people regain freedoms,,, no one cares anymore. Look at the amount of comments on this article vs previous related articles during lockdown.

    • Lady London says:

      Clearly written C/o BA’s HR lawyers with input from PR.

      Nothing we haven’t been saying on here, though. We understand all airlines have to downsize.

      Just 2 issues though – BA will survive and incomparison to most should survive well. They *do” have enough to treat tbose employees that have to go, more decently than the low standards of British employment laws require. Yet they’re whining they *cant* treat employees decently when this problem is temporary and they have access to enough cash and will rise again. Large numbers being fired are not in the same position.

      And sleazily taking the opportunity to tear up existing employment contracts for employees that still have a job and force low pay and new far worse working conditions? It’s a dream come true for BA. They might never get another chance. If their national employment legislation allows it, I urge Lufthansa, KLM, Brussels Airlines anf Air France to do it too.

  • Czechoslovakia says:

    Having had the opportunity to fly many miles, with many airlines over the years, I’ve always struggled to pinpoint what exactly BA does better than the rest. If grubby old planes are your thing, sure BA comes out tops. After a mediocre meal? BAs your choice. Pretty much everything BA does in recent history is only done to the “minimum acceptable standard”, or below. The only real positives I can think of, is that it’s the only airline that offers a decent brew, and it’s crews are generally excellent, especially so the older crew members who take an enormous amount of pride in their work, and airline. Yes, it’s a cut-throat industry, and times are bad, but the lack of respect from senior management for those who’ve faithfully served BA all these years is appalling.