Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) chief executive yesterday boasted that the company had a “cash mountain” in reserve to help it through the pandemic, leading to condemnation from Unite the Union who are seeking fair treatment of airport staff.
Unite has accused HAL of a “scant and callous disregard” for workers on the front line, after chief executive John Holland-Kaye was reported to have boasted about the huge cash reserves the airport has to take it through the next couple of years.
This is despite the airport posting a £1.5bn loss in the first nine months of this year due to the dramatic drop in demand for air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic – something which has lead the airport to issue formal notices of redundancy with over 1,000 jobs at risk.
HAL CEO John Holland-Kaye said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday (28 October): “We’re very well-funded. We have cash that will carry us through for at least two years based on our forecasting. In fact, we could go for another 15 months, even if we had no passengers, which we don’t expect to be happening. So, we’re in a very strong position and Heathrow will survive through this.
“But we need to make sure we are getting the UK economy moving again. We’re the UK’s biggest port, we are fundamental to this small island trading nation being such a successful economy and until we can get aviation moving again through testing, we’re not going to be able to help the UK economy recover and protect millions of jobs.”
Unite condemned the airport for issuing generous pay-outs to shareholders and top executives while issuing notices to ‘fire and rehire’ staff on hugely inferior pay and conditions. The proposed new employment terms will see frontline worker losing as much as £8,000 per year – around 25% of their current salary – and will affect around 4,000 people employed by HAL.
Unite members who are employed by HAL have recently been balloted for industrial action over the plans, with the ballot due to close on 5 November. Unite represents a variety of Heathrow workers, including security officers, engineers, airside operatives and firefighters.
Recent research from the union has shown that over 80,000 people are directly employed at Heathrow airport, which is home to 320 businesses – making it the largest workplace in Europe. One in five local jobs are based at the airport and around 40% of the workforce in the surrounding area is employed in the aviation sector in some capacity.
Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King criticised the recent remarks from John Holland-Kaye and the disparity between how HAL treat shareholders and their employees.
Mr King said: “The remarks made by Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye boasting that the company had a cash mountain to tide it through the pandemic for the next two years shows a scant and callous disregard for those on the airport’s frontline, such as security operatives and firefighters.
“There seems to be one rule for the shareholders who have received handsome dividend payments and the generous remuneration packages for top executives, including John Holland-Kaye – and another more brutal approach to those who can least afford cuts to pay.
“He has admitted that HAL is in a ‘very strong’ financial position, so now is the time to sit down with Unite for constructive talks to chart a fair and equitable way forward as we go through the Covid-19 crisis.
“The issue here is not a lack of money, but how it is shared out. John Holland-Kaye has put the interests of shareholders well before that of his employees.
“This is a sad indictment of his managerial style and not what is expected at a time of national crisis when social responsibility should complement the demands of the balance sheet.
“Driving down the wages of our members will hit not just their packet packets in the run-up to Christmas, but the local economy in the Heathrow region with the possibility that restaurants, pubs and local shops being badly affected.”
.@HeathrowAirport is using Covid as an excuse to cut wages of 4,000 workers. Despite working through the pandemic, staff have now been told to accept a 24% PERMANENT wage cut or go. #StoptheWageCuts pic.twitter.com/3oWkojDfvz
— Unite the union: join a union (@unitetheunion) October 29, 2020