MPs: Behaviour of British Airways towards workers a ‘national disgrace’

MPs have criticised the way British Airways has treated its workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

A report by the Commons transport select committee said the airline had made a “calculated attempt to take advantage” of the crisis by cutting up to 12,000 jobs and downgrading terms and conditions for most of its remaining employees.

The committee’s report stated: “The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company towards its employees is a national disgrace.

“It falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis.”

British Airways, which is owned by International Airlines Group (IAG), is among a number of airlines having to make cuts to survive the drop in demand for travel prompted by the pandemic.

The committee of MPs agreed job losses “may be sadly inevitable” but UK employers should not “proceed hastily” by firing large numbers of people while the government’s furlough scheme is in place.

By 14 May, British Airways had received nearly £35m from the government through the wage subsidy scheme for 22,000 staff, the committee said.

But IAG boss Willie Walsh told MPs the amount received in April was equivalent to less than two days of staff wages.

Unions told the committee that British Airways was considering a “fire and rehire” approach and Unite union boss Len McCluskey has accused the airline’s management of behaving like “industrial thugs”.

Earlier this month, Mr Walsh told Sky News: “No decision has been taken in relation to actual redundancies.

“But what we have done is in compliance with the law – there’s a legal obligation on the company to submit these documents to the elected representatives, then to engage in consultations to give everybody an opportunity to try and reduce, mitigate, do anything we can to reduce the impact of the potential restructuring of the business.”

He added: “We want the trade unions to engage with the British Airways management team to represent the people working hard at BA to ensure the airline can have a future.”

Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the committee, said: “This wanton destruction of a loyal workforce cannot appear to go without sanction by government, parliamentarians or paying passengers who may choose differently in future. We view it as a national disgrace.”

British Airways said in a statement: “Mr Merriman made clear several weeks ago that the transport select committee’s report would be ‘fuelled by the kind and impassioned messages’ he received, rather than the facts.

“The facts are clear. The government has no plans to help the sector restart and recover as evidenced by the introduction of the 14-day quarantine regulation.

“We find ourselves in the deepest crisis ever faced by the airline industry. A crisis not of our making but one which we must address.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure that British Airways can survive and sustain the maximum number of jobs consistent with the new reality of a changed airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.”

The committee’s report into the impact of the pandemic on the aviation sector also urged the government to abandon its 14-day quarantine rule at the end of June.

On Friday, IAG, Ryanair and easyJet launched legal action against the government over the quarantine rules.

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