British Airways has attacked unions for rejecting formal redundancy consultations, leading to a war of words with Unite and GMB as strike fears grow.
Relations between trade unions and British Airways seemed to deteriorate over the weekend over the airline’s plans for drastic job cuts.
A flurry of briefings over the weekend suggested the two parties were further apart than ever regarding the airline’s proposals to lay off as many as 12,000 of its 43,000 staff – more than a quarter of its workers.
BA bosses accused both Unite and GMB of having “refused to represent their members” as the company looks to take emergency action to safeguard its future. In a letter to MPs, Willie Walsh – the boss of BA’s parent company IAG – criticised the “deeply regrettable” decision by the unions to reject formal redundancy consultations.
However, Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite the Union which represents 26,000 British Airways workers, responded by saying his “door was open” to discussions with BA if the airline “withdrew its threat of mass dismissals”.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett also criticised the timing of BA’s redundancy notice, saying:
BA have taken this action when our members are furloughed and we are prevented from having meaningful consultation or access to our members. This is morally wrong and unlawful.
The rising tensions have left the unions and BA running out of time to find a resolution before the first redundancies are due on 15 June, with the increasingly heated war of words sparking fears of strike action among airline staff.
Responding to press requests over the weekend, Unite said it “is not balloting for industrial action and would reaffirm that our call to BA is to remove the threat of dismissals on 15 June, extend the present furlough arrangements and get around the negotiating table with Unite officials”.
In his letter to MPs, Willie Walsh revealed that BA has been burning through £20 million a day during lockdown in order to say in business, and has already racked up £800 million of debt in what is now the worst crisis in its history.
Unions fear that BA is attempting to radically overhaul employment terms for its workers under the disguise of sweeping redundancy plans. Both Unite and GMB claim that the airline is effectively seeking to “fire and rehire” its staff on significantly reduced terms and conditions.
Unite have called BA’s actions “immoral” as the airline used the Government’s job retention scheme to furlough around 23,000 staff members before announcing the planned redundancies in April. In response, Walsh said BA’s plans are both lawful and proportionate and that the furlough rules specifically allow companies to lay off staff.
BA maintains that the proposed job cuts are essential to help it survive as a ‘smaller company’ in a future in which it believes the demand for air travel will decrease significantly.
Unions respond to government’s quarantine plans
In related news, the GMB union and Unite have today both responded to the government’s plans to impose a period of 14 days self-quarantining on all passengers arriving in the UK.
GMB has warned that the policy will have “disastrous” consequences on the aviation industry, while Unite have called on the government to provide financial support to the sector.
GMB national officer Nadine Houghton said:
The government’s plans for self-quarantining arrivals to the UK will prove disastrous for an already beleaguered aviation industry.
This is a populist move, made without any real scientific evidence, consultation with the industry or the unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the sector.
Aviation jobs aren’t just about airlines, cabin crew and pilots; the aviation industry provides important supply chain jobs to baggage handlers, security, fire crews, taxi drivers and retail workers.
If the government don’t end this ill thought out policy and step in with a bespoke financial package for aviation then thousands of regional aviation jobs will be lost. It’s not too late for the government to act.
Unite national officer Oliver Richardson said:
Covid-19 is the greatest challenge the aviation sector has ever faced and the government’s introduction of quarantine further adds to it.
This only reinforces the fact that the government has a moral duty to support the aviation industry during this time of crisis, as it has promised to do on numerous occasions.
While we are not questioning medically based measures, Unite is supportive of positive measures such as air bridges and effective track and tracing all of which help to generate confidence and will boost a return to flying.
The aviation sector is crying out for an integrated plan for a financial support programme to get it back on its feet and is looking to the government for that leadership.