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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)

  • insider says:

    Below is slightly off topic, but is a blog post from the recently retired director of strategy at IAG, offering asome musings on the financial side:

    http://rboyle.co.uk/2020/06/12/you-dont-know-what-youve-got-till-its-gone/

  • Clive says:

    I am left with little doubt that the massive restructuring and sweeping contract changes for nearly every employee at BA has been sat in Willie Walsh’s draft box for a few years now; Covid-19 comes along and just when he didn’t think he would get a swansong, all of his career dreams came true. BA’s behaviour towards its loyal staff is indeed a national disgrace. Whilst job losses will be inevitable, the callous attempt to re-write near every contract is unacceptable and will do irreparable damage for employee relations.

    I agree that this behaviour falls well below the standards expected from any employer. BA now have a massive people problem. It will now have a company-wide dis-loyal, de-motivated workforce who will resent every day of their working life (Assuming they are “lucky” to be selected for one of the new contracts) and this will reflect in the operations of the airline and customer service. I anticipate a subtle but powerful employee led race to the bottom – they have nothing to lose (apart from shockingly bad Ts&Cs in their new contact including “new” disciplinary procedures). This will take the form of ill-maintained planes, bare minimal (and miserable) customer service onboard and at airports, delays, (more!) IT failures amongst other ways a de-motivated and deeply angry workforce may unconsciously behave.

    And I suspect not many “New” BA employees will ever admit to working for such a morally and ethically bankrupt organisation – not that many current BA employees probably admit it either!

    My organisation (which I own) has made a decision to join ABBA. It is now gross misconduct for any employee to fly BA on company business (save a couple of exceptions like escaping a sudden war zone) and our £500k budget (not the biggest I agree) goes elsewhere. My GGL membership has been terminated.

    I’m sorry this action does not help the cause of BA employees but I cannot have my organisation associated in any way. Given the Union’s stance so far this will no doubt please them though.

    • Briand says:

      What a load of one sided hogwash. ‘Gross misconduct ‘ … God help his employees.

      • Clive says:

        Actually, it was employee led – an engaged, motivated and listened to workforce who have my utter respect and are rewarded very fairly. Most have been begging for Star Golds in any case and they keep telling me they would rather fly Singapore Airlines (I don’t know what the fuss is about, yet). The only downside is my budget has increased by 20% – a small price to pay for increased productivity.

    • AJA says:

      The trouble with voting with your feet and going elsewhere is that it fails to support the remainder of the staff working for BA. If we all did that then BA would be making significantly more than 12,000 staff redundant. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Clive, with respect, cutting up your GGL card isn’t really going to force BA to change their tune, nor is switching your company’s airline travel spend. I think making it a gross misconduct offence to fly on BA is a tad melodramatic too. Are you cutting up your BAPP card too? But best wishes to you and your staff, enjoy your travel on Star Aliiance and the extra £100k p.a.on your travel budget..

  • SWWT says:

    So T2 is the home of all those airlines who don’t act to save their businesses? Guess that rules out Virgin for a start. And how many others fail your ethical test….?
    Suggest you may wish to consider Victoria bus station as a venue more aligned to your standards.

    • ChrisC says:

      VS hsmade redundancies.One friend is safe the other I’m not sure about.

      These are clever people. They know redundancies are inevitable.

      Yet they arent slagging off VS management the same way by BA staff friends are slagging off theirs.

      Why?

      Because they trust their management and the management is conducting honest negotiations with the staff and aren’t using this to make huge cuts in salaries and benefits (though VS are making changes they are negotiating over them). And they aren’t threatening to sack everyone as part of the process.

  • AJA says:

    Is there is no criticism of the unions for their failure to engage with BA.?

    BA’s position is an opening stance, I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that it is the only option but they won’t change their position if the unions fail to engage and come up with an alternative proposition.

    I don’t agree with the way BA is going about this but I don’t blame them as it is perfectly legal to fire and rehire. You do have a right to renegotiate any contract, it is not the case that once a contract is signed that is it for life. Fire and rehire is a legitimate means to renegotiate.

    If politicians want to stop BA (or any other business) from hiring and rehiring they need to legislate to make the practice illegal.

    • John says:

      Ok, but would you say it’s immoral? Would you say it’s disgraceful?
      Or are you cowardly sticking to “it’s legal so what’s the big deal/ change the law first” type of argument?

      • AJA says:

        Nice rush to judgement John. Did you miss the “I disagree with the way BA is going about this” part of my comment?

    • Alex W says:

      How can the unions negotiate when BA’s position is they must agree or they will sack everyone.
      If the unions can hold out long enough until more flying starts then strikes might become a viable option again.

      • AJA says:

        How can the unions negotiate if they don’t engage? At least BALPA has been negotiating. Your solution seems to be unions hold off long enough to then hurt BA by striking. That’s not negotiating. That’s holding BA to ransom which is what BA is legally doing to its staff now. If you think the strike option is ok you have to concede BA’s actions are also ok.

    • Unknown says:

      Regardless of union response (see BALPA engaging fully) BA have sought fire and rehire across the board. This is the biggest opportunity to land grab that IAG will maybe ever see and obviously they want to take advantage of it (and I’m not sure I can blame them). I don’t think Unite and Unison’s approach is useful, but the reality is that the unions have very little ability to influence anything right now except the direction of the very effective BA PR machine. The airline that during the pilot strikes told their pilots they’d be able to ground the airline for 18 months and still be fine, is trying to decimate the contracts that they themselves created and offered for decades. Maybe all the unions and workers can do is fight them in public.

    • BrightonReader says:

      Have you read the committee report rather than just the media reports of it?

    • Steve Jones says:

      “Fire and rehire is a legitimate means to renegotiate.”

      As is refusing to come to the table until what’s on the table is something that can be discussed, and not this “national disgrace” as a *Conservative MP* rightly calls it.

  • Doc says:

    I for one applaud Lady London and Clive for actually taking a stance and vote with their feet and money by moving away from BA.
    While I agree that almost every airline has to reduce their staff ending up in redundancies including BA and Virgin which is irrefutable, BA is the only one that is threatening to fire the whole staff and rehiring on worse contracts. I do agree with the sentiment that BA is doing what it needs to survive but do not agree with how it is done. If this is what the law allows, we are going to be in trouble as a nation since this could happen in every sector if there are issues post Brexit as well and that does not bode well for us as a country as a whole!!!!
    People have short memories. Not that long ago when BA were in financial trouble, the staff took cuts to help them survive. All forgotten by BA.
    Enough political ranting, back to dreaming about travelling soon again.

    • SWWT says:

      Please excuse the vulgarity, but your position seems to suggest it is possible to pick up the turd by the clean end.

  • sayling says:

    Another thought here is that, by having lower salaries, BA will be able to rehire more staff. The cost to the company, inevitably passed on to the customer, if employing all cabin crew on legacy long haul salaries and T&Cs would be very, very high, I suspect.

    • Unknown says:

      Legacy contracts haven’t been available for more than a decade?

      • Rob says:

        Over 50% are on legacy …. they never quit.

        • Martin Louis says:

          Not true Rob. Flyertalk has several legacy crew quit because of their treatment. I personally know of one crewmember who loved their job but found the constant attacks from Executives on overblown salaries too much and left.

          I annoys me how people talk about service standards and expect them to delivered consistently, no matter what the personal circumstances of the crew that day, or how poorly they are paid. We don’t consider hospitality a service when other countries consider it a profession. Having to serve and be responsible for passenger safety is a bit harder than an admin clerk banging away at a key board 9 to 5. Imagine the headlines if we equalised our office wages with the cheapest in Africa or Asia so that we are “globally competitive” – Well with the Brexit Experiment it might just happen!

          • Rob says:

            Obviously SOME quit. But the fact that, 10 years in, well over 50% of cabin crew are legacy tells you something – especially as BA has grown a lot in that time too. I would be surprised if more than 30% of legacy crew have left in 10 years which is an incredibly low attrition rate.

            (For comparison, an average job has a 20% annual attrition rate. BA legacy crew seems to be around 3% and this is despite a couple of generous VR rounds offering £40k+)

        • Mike P says:

          Hardly surprising if the reports that there are some cabin crew on >£80K are true.

        • Martin Louis says:

          SOME quit vs Never quit are two VERY DIFFERENT Statements. Sounds like you write headlines for the Toryograph.

          People choose jobs and stay in them for a number of reasons. The flexibility of working a number of shifts in a batch and having longer breaks sounds ideal to me M-F (Monday to Friday) office worker. I’ve worked for shitty companies that wanted you to make time up if came in late after visiting the doctor or dentist, to others that adopted a professional approach. But the ability to flex your work days up and then have time to do other stuff during the week is great.

          I’m working in a company where one of the team is past retirement age but they want to wok on because they enjoy what they do and don’t want to sit around at home watching Loose Women etc. I’ve got several there that have worked from school and are now in their 2nd decades. They’ve rejected promotions because of the extra work involved and time away from their growing families. Everyone is different. Every company is different, so the management consultant statistics are pointless space fillers.

          Having gone through redundancies myself, not everyone is happy to accept cash wad to go into the unknown. I was happy to go as my skill set is transferable, but I’ve seen several time “lifers” totally at loss what to do with their lives after leaving their bubble. I imagine a lot of BA staff thought £40K+ (and I’m assuming that’s if they had decades of working there) wasn’t good enough to try and find another job with similar benefits.

          Its funny how it’s considered acceptable to screw down the compensation paid to the core workers, but ok to pay excessive executive pay to the ones at the top because “we have to get the best from where ever they are” BS.

          • Rob says:

            “SOME quit vs Never quit are two VERY DIFFERENT Statements.”

            No they’re not, unless you have a mentally concerning level of pedantry, given the context of the remark.

            The level of attrition in legacy, stripping out those who take VR (and a few who die or have health issues etc), is virtually nil.

            You can see that as good news, but it can also be a bad sign. It is only a few years that the Jack Welch / General Electric mantra of “fire your weakest 10% of employees each year or your company will eventually fail” mantra was trendy business thinking.

  • Supersub says:

    When I pay for an expensive, premium service, I like the idea of those delivering that service being well motivated, enthusiastic and customer-centred. This requires airlines in turn to value those workers and ensure the roles are sought after, satisfying and (maybe even) enjoyable.
    Paying peanuts, hiring and firing etc, results in a surly, unhappy cabin crew. That’s fine for a £20 Ryanair flight to Amsterdam. Not for a £4000 longhaul to Singapore.
    BA’s recurring race to the bottom will just lose customers.

    • M Baldrick says:

      Hear Hear Supersub!

    • Simon says:

      I don’t think it’s really just that though is it?

      For example, for these flights I would guess that BA could overall save money by getting in Asian-based cabin crews…. paid in local currency I would think their salary would be less and in general the soft product would improve. In my experience, economy FAs are more or less the same with some exceptions, but overall premium class FAs in Asia are just better and you get less poor attitudes.

      But if this was to come to fruition, I can’t see many being supportive of that, even though it would improve their in-flight experience.

      • Steve says:

        A interesting approach given they have cut and sacked their Asian based crew.

      • Martin Louis says:

        We don’t we get Asian management in as well. That should save even more!! We could just offshore the whole organisation since brand values don’t seem to matter anymore. Everyone just wants the most for the least amount paid! We could have a tag line like some clothes do – “designed in the UK” in big type, manufactured in the 3rd world in small type.

      • Chris Heyes says:

        [email protected] I Changed my mind since i last commented take away “ALL”l BA’s HR slots wouldn’t take much legislation and let them out on a yearly basis with a limit on how many each Airline may “Rent”
        With the proceeds towards cleaner air or something along them lines

        • Lady London says:

          Commitments to slots probably need to be longterm on both sides. I’m not looking to ground BA, just to clip their wings a bit.

          BA have legacy unearned advantage in the number of slots they have retained without a commercial review since the long-ago days when BA was owned by the UK government. As to the best overall allocation of Heathrow slots, noting BA has made clear maintaining legacy benefits of employees is no longer financially viable, and remaining employees will be fired and rehired at minimum cost with poorest conditions possible in the market, then allocation of slots to BA at Heathrow must also promptly be reviewed by those who allocate them and the UK Government according to the same measures.

          Who knows, it’s even possible a review could find allocating a greater number of slots tp BA could be more effective commercially and fulfil other needs of the UK.

      • ChrisC says:

        BA got rid of it’s Hong Kong base a couple of years ago to save money.

        They were criticised for it as well, Not for closing the base per se but in the disgusting way they went about it.

        Not sure they’d be welome back if they started opening up crewing bases to be honest.

    • the_real_a says:

      I have commented previously even before this situation, that for me its the old timers providing the worst service in premium cabins. FAR too much dead wood that needs clearing. As much as i would like to be served by a motivated employee I prefer not to be served by those with an attitude of a “doctors receptionist”. Ive always found Mixed Fleet service decent.

  • mark2 says:

    I wonder whether the committee summoned the leaders of Unite and GMB to explain why they seem to have made no attempt to negotiate a better offer from BA?
    Also ask why they seem to support the gross inequality in pay between their members doing the same work.

    • ChrisC says:

      Witnesses –

      Wednesday 20 May 2020

      Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary for Transport, Unite the Union; Brian Strutton, General Secretary, British Air Line Pilots Association; Jason Holt, Chief Executive, Swissport UK