Nationwide airport protests are planned to demand chancellor Rishi Sunak prevents the UK’s aviation industry from being “devastated” by the fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.
The Unite union plans to mobilise members on Saturday at Birmingham, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh and East Midlands airports, followed on Monday at Stansted, Heathrow and Bristol.
The demonstrations are to be staged as British Airways staff, including cabin crew, engineers, ground crew and office staff, are poised to discover whether or not they are being made redundant as part of widespread cost cuts.
Many who remain will have their pay reduced and face changes to their employment terms and conditions.
Unite estimates that around 60,000 redundancies – equivalent to the population of Tunbridge Wells – at airlines, airports and other aviation-related businesses have already been announced.
But the government is yet to implement a plan to secure the sector’s recovery.
This is in contrast to job saving actions taken by other countries, such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, in relation to their aviation sectors.
Government support would allow the industry to weather the temporary impacts of Covid-19 and protect 250,000 jobs it supports directly, as well as more than one million it supports indirectly.
The action by union members outside airports and other locations across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will coincide with campaigning on social media and a call for consumers to send a digital ‘wish you were here… to save UK aviation jobs’ postcard to the chancellor calling for immediate government support for the sector.
Together with the TUC and all aviation unions, Unite is calling for the government to adopt the economic and fiscal measures needed to support the sector, including:
• The extension of, and modifications to, the coronavirus job retention scheme to protect employment in the aviation sector
• Suspension of Air Passenger Duty
• Public service obligation routes to ensure regional connectivity
• Business rate relief for airports (as in Scotland and Northern Ireland)
• Extending the period of repayment of loans to aviation companies beyond the current two year maximum.
August 9 marked the busiest day of 2019 for global air travel, in contrast to the crisis hitting airports around the country, according to Unite.
Assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “In March, Rishi Sunak pledged assistance for the UK’s aviation sector, which supports well over a million jobs directly and indirectly and contributes £22 billion to the economy every year. Over four months later, help is still yet to arrive, with thousands of jobs lost as a result.
“The government has ignored warning after warning in the months since the pandemic began and this crucial industry is now facing being devastated, even as other countries have taken decisive steps to protect their aviation sectors. Mr Sunak must follow their example and take urgent action.”
Unite national officer Oliver Richardson added: “UK aviation workers, as well as the communities and businesses that rely on the sector, are desperate for Mr Sunak to keep his word.
“He must provide immediate government support so the industry can weather the temporary impacts of the pandemic and emerge once again as a vital driver of the economy.
“It is also crucial that employers avoid knee-jerk reactions and take the approach of firms such as Ryanair, where redundancies have been prevented by working with Unite on measures like temporary tiered pay reductions and job pooling.”
Ahead of a visit to Scotland to see the impact of government support schemes, Sunak, said: “I recently set out the government’s next steps towards economic recovery and securing the UK’s long-term prosperity in our plan for jobs.
“As we embark on this next phase, the latest figures demonstrate that we are continuing to support jobs, incomes, and businesses across every corner of the UK.”
Government data showed that more than 130,000 firms in devolved nations receiving £4.7 billion in state-backed loans during the outbreak and almost 900,000 firms in England have attracted more than £10 billion in business grants.
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