News, Culture & Society

Fury as Unite blasts British Airways for ‘betrayal’ of thousands of workers

Senior British Airways cabin crew are facing a staggering 55 per cent pay cut with salaries slashed to £24,000 in yet another blow to the airline industry. 

Airline bosses wrote to employees outlining the potential new salaries, and announced they are consulting unions over possible job cuts, with 4,700 jobs on the line. 

The news comes as almost 50,000 British Airways customers are still owed refunds despite the airline suspending most flights in March.

Crew numbers could be nearly halved from 1,860 to 971 and main crew numbers risk being cut from 12,402 to 8,591 as the airline grapples to stay afloat amid strict travel restrictions.

The job cuts could affect all staff, including ‘main’ crew and cabin crew, as well as managerial roles.

‘British Airways are cynically and opportunistically using the coronavirus pandemic to make swathes of workers redundant while simultaneously slashing the terms and conditions of the staff who remain. The cuts in pay are between 55-75% for thousands of crew,’ said trade union Unite’s assistant general secretary Howard Beckett, reacting to the news.

‘We believe that this is not only potentially unlawful, but a complete abuse of the government Job Retention Scheme which was put in place to protect employees.

‘This is a complete betrayal of workers who have dedicated their lives to making the company the success it is today, who have helped build the huge cash reserves that enable BA to weather the current aviation crisis caused by Covid-19.’ 

When approached for comment, British Airways declined, saying: ‘We can’t comment further while we consult with our unions.’

BA has grounded most of its fleet but is still to refund all the customers for their tickets with 47,000 still waiting

Also reacting to the news, British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) General Secretary Brian Strutton said: ‘Pilots in UK airlines have already taken pay cuts of up to 70% while planes have been grounded and have now been slammed with job losses and opportunistic grabs at their terms and conditions. 

‘U.K. Aviation is in a death spiral and while other countries are helping out their airlines the U.K. Government is actually making things worse.’ 

Willie Walsh, boss of its Spanish parent company, has also revealed that 921,000 tickets for 2.1million flights were refunded in cash – but 346,000 customers accepted a credit voucher for a future flight. 

But there are still 47,400 people who are yet to see their money two months after the coronavirus crisis began.  

Thousands of British holidaymakers are owed up to £7billion for trips cancelled because of the global coronavirus pandemic with banks and airlines accused of flouting the law by refusing refunds.

There is growing anger that the Government has not intervened when lenders and travel firms are illegally withholding cash that should be paid within a week for flights and 14 days for package deals.

It came as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the proposed two-week quarantine for people arriving in the UK and said: ‘It seems fair and right that if we are asking the British people to stay at home and make such huge sacrifices in their own lives, then we would expect anybody coming back to the country to do the same thing’. 

The Competition and Markets Authority has revealed that four out of five complaints it is getting every day is from British consumers being denied travel refunds and the UK watchdog will soon announce a new crackdown.    

How coronavirus has affected UK airlines

Flybe: Europe’s largest regional airline collapsed on March 5 after months on the brink, triggering 2,400 job losses and left around 15,000 passengers stranded across the UK and Europe. Flybe’s owners, a consortium including Virgin Atlantic, the Stobart Group and hedge fund firm Cyrus Capital, blamed coronavirus for hastening the ailing airline’s collapse. Flybe operated up to 50 UK routes, accounting for 40 per cent of all domestic flights, and was used by 9.5million passengers a year.

British Airways: The International Airlines Group, which also includes Iberia and Aer Lingus, said on March 16 that there would be a 75 per cent reduction in passenger capacity for two months, with boss Willie Walsh admitting there was ‘no guarantee that many European airlines would survive’. The company has since said it wants to reduce the number of staff by 12,000.

easyJet: The airline with 9,000 UK-based staff including 4,000 cabin crew grounded its entire fleet of 344 planes on March 30. The Luton-based carrier said parking all of its planes ‘removes significant cost’ as the aviation industry struggles to cope with a collapse in demand.

Loganair: The Scottish regional airline said on March 30 that it expects to ask the Government for a bailout to cope with the impact of the pandemic. Loganair will go to the government despite being told by Finance Minister Rishi Sunak last week that airlines should exhaust all other options for funding, before asking for help.

Jet2: The budget holiday airline has suspended all of its flights departing from Britain until April 30. A number of Jet2 flights turned around mid-air last month while travelling to Spain when a lockdown was announced in the country.

Virgin Atlantic: The airline said on March 16 that it would have reduced its lights by 80 per cent by March 26, and this will go up to 85 per cent by April. It has also urged the Government to offer carriers emergency credit facilities worth up to £7.5billion.

Ryanair: More than 90 per cent of the Irish-based airline’s planes are now grounded, with the rest of the aircraft providing repatriation and rescue flights. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said his airline would be forced to shed 3,000 jobs while seeking pay reductions of up to 20 per cent by those who remain. 

Airlines including BA, easyJet, Jet2, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and TUI have been accused of effectively breaking the law by pushing customers to accept credit-note vouchers which have little consumer protection and could prove worthless if a carrier went bust.  

Willie Walsh has also confirmed 12,000 job cuts at the airline will still go ahead despite the Government extending its furlough scheme until the end of October.

IAG’s chief executive Willie Walsh told MPs on Monday, before the extension announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, that he was not ‘picking on’ British Airways.

Instead, he explained, the timing of the decision was due to the UK’s labour laws, which mean staff must be given a 45-day consultation period ahead of any redundancies.

But Mr Walsh’s IAG, which also owns airlines including Iberia and Aer Lingus, said on Wednesday the redundancy consultation will continue, after he was asked to put it on hold.

He wrote: ‘I was pleased to see the announcement by the Chancellor that the CJRS (furlough scheme) is being extended.

‘We commend the Chancellor for his decision and applaud his efforts to breathe some life into a dying economy.

‘His actions will provide some additional relief to our people and our business.

‘However, we must act now to secure the maximum number of jobs possible, consistent with the reality of a structurally changed airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.

‘I want to confirm therefore that we will not pause our consultations or put our plans on hold.’

On Monday in evidence to the Transport Committee, he said the redundancies were at BA because ‘the labour legislation in Ireland and Spain – the two other major countries in which we operate – it’s different. We’re required to do it in a different way’.

Committee chairman Huw Merriman said that while it is clear the aviation sector ‘is on its knees right now’, the extension of the Government’s furlough scheme until October would allow BA employees to keep their jobs despite most flights being grounded.

Airbus and Tui are set to slash thousands of jobs as planes around the world are grounded.

The Airline industry has been trashed by the lockdown with BA now only flying from Heathrow (pictured) after shutting its Gatwick operation

The Airline industry has been trashed by the lockdown with BA now only flying from Heathrow (pictured) after shutting its Gatwick operation

In a further sign of the damage the coronavirus outbreak is doing to business, aircraft maker Airbus stands ready to axe more than 10,000 staff, possibly within days.

And tour operator Tui warned that up to 8,000 jobs will go at its business following the dramatic collapse in air travel and holiday bookings.

The prospect adds to the misery sweeping travel, aviation and aerospace. Plane maker Boeing is cutting 16,000 jobs while 12,000 staff face the axe at British Airways, 3,000 at Virgin Atlantic and 3,000 at Ryanair.

Speedway rider is among thousands recruited by Amazon after losing their jobs during the crisis  

Online giant Amazon has recruited thousands of staff as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, including workers who have lost their jobs in recent weeks in sectors ranging from education to travel and tourism.

More than 15,000 full and part-time positions have been filled across Amazon’s fulfilment and logistics network.

New recruits range from an arborist, architect, beautician and lifeguard to a pilot, scientists, a singer and tattooists.

Professional speedway rider Ricky Wells, who grew up in California, is working at Amazon’s site in Doncaster.

Professional speedway rider Ricky Wells, who grew up in California, is working at Amazon's site in Doncaster

Professional speedway rider Ricky Wells, who grew up in California, is working at Amazon’s site in Doncaster

He said: ‘Due to Covid-19, speedway throughout Europe was cancelled in late March along with most other professional sports.

‘The closing of the competition has resulted in my sponsors withdrawing from the sport, as well as losing my performance-based wages which were gained through race finishing positions.

‘I’ve never worked in a warehouse before but I like it because it’s always busy.

‘Everyone is really friendly and it’s great to work with such a diverse group.

‘I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked how a guy from California ended up in Doncaster, but I like Doncaster a lot.

‘It’s given me a goal and got me out of the house, as well as provided a nice income to keep things turning over, removing a lot of the stress I was facing before.’

Anne Herzog, who previously worked as a barista at international conferences, is now at Amazon’s Peterborough fulfilment centre.

She said: ‘Conferences were being cancelled one after the other and I’m just not used to sitting at home – there’s only so much relaxing you can enjoy.’ 

Micha Boon, who runs a YouTube travel channel, works at a fulfilment centre in Peterborough

Micha Boon, who runs a YouTube travel channel, works at a fulfilment centre in Peterborough