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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)

  • ChrisC says:

    There is a conservative majority on select committees and the report whilst generally written by the Chair and the Clerk (which is a far more important role than it sounds) are agreed by the full committee before being published.

    Select Committee reports do get a formal response from the Government (which will be really interesting to read in respect to what the government agrees or disagrees with or just plain ignores) and a brief debate in the chamber once that response is received.

    • Paul74 says:

      Yes, although I tend to be quite sceptical about Select Committee reports in terms of what difference they’ll make this will at least elicit a response on the issues raised.
      I see at least two of the members (for Buckingham and especially Brentford & Isleworth) probably have enough BA/other Heathrow employees amongst their constituents to have taken a special interest in this topic. https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/153/transport-committee/membership/

  • Tim M says:

    Huw Merriman was my next door neighbour as freshers at Durham. We went to the freshers night, in the undercroft of the castle, together because we didn’t know anyone else. We got onto politics and never really spoke to each other again. He could repeat all the official Tory lines On any subject parrot fashion, I knew them all from following politics, but was incapable of independent thought. I suspect the committee have told him what to write in this report.

  • GaryC says:

    I love the suggestion that IAG should hold off on restructuring until the government comes up with plans to restart the sector. Given the complete joke that has been the government’s response to date on Covid, or its prior handling of Brexit, why should its “plans” here be any different. And whatever “plans” they do come up with, other than one offs such as lifting the 14 day quarantine, the government’s actual ability to influence air travel is relatively limited.

  • Scallder says:

    BA trying to get all workforce onto cheaper contracts is of course horrendous behaviour by them. But it’s currently legal, so if they want to change the ability of hire and rehire then (try at least to) push it though parliament!!

  • Sandra says:

    Not one mention of VIRGIN ! Why is Richard B not being brought before this committee ?

    • Rhys says:

      Virgin Atlantic haven’t threatened to fire their entire staff and re-hire on worse contracts!

      • insider says:

        They haven’t threatened no, they just fired 3000 instead…

        • Rhys says:

          …pretty much all airlines are making staff redundant. That’s what happens when a global pandemic shuts down air travel with little hope of a full recovery for 2-3 years.

          What Virgin is NOT doing is firing its ENTIRE workforce and then re-hiring the majority under worse contracts. This is why BA is being singled out.

          • marcw says:

            Do youy know whether VS salaries for cabin crew are more in line with legacy crews or MF?

          • Rob says:

            Mixed Fleet. Virgin management have admitted to me that crew are badly paid. However, Virgin seems to select a different sort of person. Arguably it is also more attractive – £20k for a handful of long-haul trips to the US, Asia and Caribbean each month is NOT the same as £20k for a scrappy mix of short-haul and long-haul BA flying. Apart from Lagos I don’t think there is anywhere on the VS map which would constitute a ‘bad’ stopover.

  • SWWT says:

    Wonder how much it cost to produce this report. Suspect most people who frequent HfP and probably anywhere else could have generated similar without any consultation. 50 (or whatever) pages saying nothing more informative than ‘the sky is blue’. Platitudes that are likely not to gain a great deal of attention within IAG.
    What BA are intending is fairly brutal, but from personal experience am very aware of the first and overriding priority of any organisation, which is to survive. And somewhere in the top ten is another; -never waste a good crisis.

  • jil says:

    BA has been bullied by the union for a long time, now it’s BA s turn.

    • Doug M says:

      Complete nonsense. The pilots backed down. The big deal in 2010 ended with Mixed Fleet, where’s your evidence of bullying?

    • ChrisC says:

      Thaks for the laugh.

      I was feeling low today and your comment cheered me up

      Bulying unions = bad but bullying management = good?

  • Rob Collins says:

    Not sure how anyone can justify BA’s actions, however there seem to be a few BA apologists on here making some fairly incredulous claims. BA’s behaviour is clearly beyond the pale. The fact that they are receiving a level of opprobrium usually reserved for Ryanair, says it all.

    • SWWT says:

      Suggest you are being naive. The media likes someone to give a good kicking to irrespective of any justification, and select committees must be seen to be doing something, even if it is bordering on virtue signalling
      I profess to be far from a BA apologist, having for years refused to fly them if there is a half decent alternative. But they are reacting to an unprecedented existential challenge. Those same voices of condemnation, -perhaps yours too, will be united in strident condemnation if they were to sit back and wait passively for the trading environment to improve. ie do nothing, run out of cash and cease trading. They should have done something!! will be the cry. Well, they are doing something. You and many others may not like it, but they are doing what they consider necessary to secure a future.

    • Doug M says:

      This Government are huge supporters of the capitalist system. They also have the power to legislate. But Tory Govs have legislated to make it harder to strike, and much easier to fire people, apparently it’s out flexible workforce that makes us so competitive. For the Tory majority select committee to condemn BA for behaving exactly in the manner they’ve encouraged and legislated to enable is absolute hypocrisy.

    • Charlieface says:

      Well if Ryanair can pull tricks, why not BA? Ultimately if the law allows it there is very little any of us can do about it. If you don’t like it (and I don’t) then change the law.