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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Aviation workers under attack

by New Worker correspondent

THE BRITISH Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has won a battle to prevent British Airways cutting 1,255 pilot jobs and to fire and rehire remaining pilots on worse conditions – but at a very heavy price. 85 per cent of its members at BA have voted by 87 per cent to accept 270 job losses and a 20 per cent pay cut which will reduce to eight per cent over two years after which pay will gradually be restored. BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said: “Our members have made a pragmatic decision in the circumstances but the fact that we were unable to persuade BA to avoid all compulsory redundancies is bitterly disappointing”.

BALPA also calls for clarity on who will shoulder the huge cost of quarantine. Holidaymakers who cannot work on their return will incur loss of earnings while airlines will face a huge loss of revenue – all as a result of Government policy and through no fault of either holidaymakers or airlines.

The union also deplored the Government’s lack of clarity on border policies. Strutton added that “the ever changing advice and guidance is neither protecting the public nor inspiring confidence. The travelling public needs clarity. We are asking the Government to sharpen the ‘blunt tool’ approach and look at the Covid problem at a regional and city level rather than blacklisting entire countries”. Unite the Union endorsed BALPA’s approach when General Secretary Len McCluskey said on Monday that the deal offered to British Airways’ pilots would be also acceptable to tens of thousands of crew and staff members presently threatened with the “fire and rehire” plan.

On Monday McCluskey deplored BA’s “industrial thuggery” and said that he would “accept the pilots’ deal, but we are not being offered it.”

wider agenda

McCluskey accused BA of having a wider agenda of using the pandemic crisis to drive down the terms and conditions of cabin crew and staff, with some losing more than £20,000 from salaries as part of a long-term ambition to reposition BA as a low cost airline in all but name.

He pointed out that BA was in good enough shape to purchase another airline (Air Europa), and give the assistance packages to staff in related companies Iberia and Aer Lingus which show that BA can take a long-term view about the recovery of the business.

Commenting on its quarterly results McCluskey said “BA is fortunate. Its parent company can afford to make better choices. It has billions in the bank and even plans to expand by purchasing another airline which is hardly the act of a business on its knees. Given this, we say again to Mr Walsh [ boss of the International Airlines Group that owns BA] that there is evidently no need to embark on this drastic course of fire and rehire, ripping up the contracts of 42,000 workers, raiding the wages of staff, and sending 12,000 loyal workers to the dole queue”.

Elsewhere in the aviation industry, at Heathrow Airport around 3,000 out of 4,500 workers face losing their jobs as catering companies use the coronavirus plague to axe jobs and undermine employment conditions.

The four biggest companies are Austrian-owned DO & CO which has announced that 2,134 jobs could go leaving a tiny rump of only 300 workers. Alpha LSG warned 697 staff are at risk of redundancy, with plans to impose a 16 hour working week with only statutory terms and conditions. The smaller Gate Gourmet has announced plans to cut 151 while Newrest has already sacked 90, or half their staff, and failed to engage with the unions.

Unite’s regional officer Shereen Higginson said: “When passengers board their planes, they expect meals and drinks, which are provided by an invisible army of aviation caterers.

“But now about 3,000 of them out of a total Heathrow catering workforce of 4,500 are facing the axe. These catering firms already pay our members desperately low wages and refuse to pay the London living wage, currently £10.75 an hour. There is now the suggestion that some workers do part-time work for just 16 hours per week – which is not financially feasible for our members as west London has a high cost of living.

“Our members feel let down, numb and many angered by their employer, giving their loyalty and dedication for their key role for many years of continuous service.

“These job losses will have long-term economic impacts on the local communities where our members live, with the likelihood of entire families being made redundant and potentially facing long term unemployment” she concluded.

A similar tale is unfolding north of the border. At Edinburgh Airport plans are afoot to make a third of its 750-strong workforce redundant.

Chief executive Gordon Dewar said it was bitterly sad for those losing their jobs “through no fault of their own” claiming that “we have worked with unions and staff over the past four months to protect as many jobs as possible” but that compulsory and voluntary redundancies were inevitable because of an expected two-thirds decline in passengers.

Another Unite regional officer, Sandy Smart said: “We have been calling on Westminster and Holyrood parliaments to put an aid package together to help Scotland’s airports and we will continue to pursue this.”

In all about 1,500 jobs could be lost in civil aviation in Scotland, Staff employed at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports by Menzies Aviation have been threatened with redundancy while 800 Swissport staff at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports are at risk.