Local MPs Call for Airline Job Loss Moratorium

Back union call for a review by government before redundancies are made

Staff at Heathrow. Picture: Heathrow

A group of West London Labour MPs virtually met with representatives from the pilots’ union, BALPA, and have joined their calls for a complete moratorium on job losses in the airline industry particularly at Heathrow.

The airport is expected to make an announcement over possible job cuts in the coming weeks. Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, told MPs at the Transport Select Committee last week that a decision will be made over frontline staff employed by the airport, and it could depend on what government guidance is given on how to save the aviation sector. Heathrow saw its passenger traffic in April drop by a 97 per cent.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston), Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall), Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), and Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) issued a joint statement saying, “British Airways employs 43,000 people, including many in West London. The scale of the proposed job losses is both premature and unconscionable, and we are also extremely concerned that BA may be using the Covid crisis as an opportunity to attack employees’ terms and conditions.

“The Chancellor said he would consider giving support to airlines where all other options had been exhausted. If BA is suggesting this scale of redundancies we are clearly well past that point, and the Government must now intervene.

“BALPA has called on the Government to insist that the industry stops all proposed job cuts until a proper, government-led, high-level and strategic view is taken about where the UK aviation industry is going. We completely agree with that approach. Aviation is too important to the UK economy, and to our constituencies, to be left in the hands of CEOs who are apparently out to exploit this crisis for their own ends.”

Unite the union also represents thousands of workers employed by Heathrow, and regional coordinating officer Wayne King said so far during the crisis talks with airport bosses have been “very good”.

The furlough scheme already in place for many staff members the union boss said is going “exceptionally well”, but he made it clear the body was “not going to accept” any pre-emptive decision over job cuts while the government’s job retention scheme is still in place.

“What we have encouraged is to keep engaged all the way through so as long as they engage with us, they have got more chances of people getting through in the best shape we possibly can,” Mr King said.

“We want to get Heathrow through this in the best shape possible.”

He added not keeping unions involved could be a “huge mistake”.

The virtual meeting between local MPs and union officials
The virtual meeting between local MPs and union officials

Hounslow council leader Steve Curran has said “saving every job is important to us” and that the council is working to stop job losses at Heathrow. He believes around 45,000 people living in Hounslow gain employment from Heathrow either directly or through its supply chain networks.

“I know Heathrow has been working very hard not to make anyone redundant. They want to reduce the number of job losses. It is about working with them to help them do that, about retraining those staff, giving them different opportunities within West London,” Cllr Curran said.

“We need to establish how we can support the local economy in Hounslow to change and develop over the next weeks, months and years. It will [Heathrow job cuts] have a dramatic effect on Hounslow particularly.”

And he added: “After Covid-19, our number one priority is ensuring we are helping those people going to be made redundant at Heathrow.”

Cllr Curran is concerned that Heathrow job cuts will hit women and those on low-pay hardest, as they make up large numbers of workers at the airport. He also fears for young people trying to enter the job market in September during the current crisis.

On the Prime Minister’s announcement that a two-week quarantine will be introduced for travellers coming to the UK, Mr King added it was “exceptionally worrying” for the industry and the impact that could have.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told MPs last week at the Transport Select Committee that a two-week quarantine would “kill” the travel sector, and called for government guidance as it was faced with tough decisions over staffing.

“We haven’t yet cut frontline roles. We will be making those decisions very soon and that’s why we urgently need clear guidance from the government as to whether we can get aviation up and running in a few months’ time, saving jobs, or if we have up to a year, losing jobs,” he said.

Reacting to the PM’s confirmation on Sunday (May 10) over a quarantine introduction, airport bosses said the move will “effectively close borders temporarily”.

Mr Holland-Kaye added: “Aviation is the lifeblood of this country’s economy, and until we get Britain flying again, UK business will be stuck in third gear. The Government needs to urgently lay out a roadmap for how they will reopen borders once the disease has been beaten, and to take an immediate lead in agreeing a Common International Standard for health in aviation that will allow passengers who don’t have the infection to travel freely.”

Last week the airport chief executive revealed he had personally stopped taking pay for three months, and that the West London airport hub was “burning” through £200m a month.

He said using its retained profits will keep the airport from bankruptcy for about a year, and that while that was a good position to be in, he did not know whether it will be long enough.

Written with contributions from Anahita Hossein-Pour– Local Democracy Reporter

May 15, 2020