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Union accuses airlines of exaggerating impact of pandemic to make job cuts

Airlines are ‘exaggerating’ the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to make job cuts, a pilots union has warned (Steve Parsons/PA)
Airlines are ‘exaggerating’ the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to make job cuts, a pilots union has warned (Steve Parsons/PA)

Airlines are exaggerating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to make job cuts, a pilots union has warned.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, told MPs that carriers are looking to “take advantage of the crisis”.

British Airways, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic are among the airlines that have announced plans to make thousands of staff redundant.

IAG, which owns British Airways, has said it does not expect demand for air travel to recover before 2023, while Gatwick Airport has said it could take up to four years.

Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee, Mr Strutton said: “I believe that airlines are exaggerating the problem.

“The predictions that some of the airline leaders are saying, of up to a five or six-year recovery, is not in line with industry standard predictions.

“Last week, Iata, the International Air Transport Association – which is usually the touchstone for these things – issued its new projections, and said that by the end of 2022 we would be back to 2019 levels.

“We’re in a trough at the moment, we will be coming out of it over the next two-and-a-half years, and I think that airlines are egging the pudding too much to take advantage of the crisis to make changes and downsize their workforce unnecessarily.”

The Iata forecast stated that “we don’t expect 2019 levels to be exceeded until 2023” in relation to overall demand for air travel, while international flights “may not recover” until 2023-24.

Mr Strutton went on: “We have threats of job losses starting on the 15th of June.

“The one immediate thing that needs to be done is those knee-jerk decisions taken now – in isolation by different airlines – need to be called out, need to be stopped.

“Government should be saying, ‘it’s not the right time to be taking those decisions whilst we work out a holistic way forward for the industry’.”

Diana Holland, assistant general secretary for transport at the Unite union, told the committee that she is “extremely concerned” about the future of the aviation industry.

She said: “If there isn’t revenue coming in to the industry it’s not just the airlines (affected), it’s the airports, it’s everything down the line and of course all the people that work there.

“We are extremely worried about the future, and that’s why we need to come together now to look at what plan we have to restart, to rebuild confidence.”

Ms Holland acknowledged that there may be “temporary changes” to jobs, pay, terms and conditions, but stressed these must not be “decimated for the future”.

She added: “This is about all of us.”

Coronavirus – Wed May 20, 2020
Aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst answering questions in front of the Transport Committee (House of Commons/PA)

Aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst told MPs that she has been contacted by many aviation workers in recent weeks, and the threat of job losses “keeps me awake at night”.

She went on: “I am under no illusions to the impact and the concern that those individuals will be feeling at that time, and what the consequences could be for some of them.

“My priority… is very much how we work with industry and all stakeholders in that restart and recovery process.

“It is my top priority. There are many, many challenges, some which will be not easy to overcome.

“But ultimately we need to work together as an industry and internationally, in order to get our planes up and flying again, our airports working, and also keeping our workforce in work.”

Asked about British Airways’ plan to cut more than a quarter of its jobs, Ms Tolhurst said: “I’ve spoken with representatives at BA and obviously I’ve expressed my disappointment.”

She added: “I think the British public will make their own views on the actions of certain airlines.”