MPs and unions have slammed British Airways over its plans to make 12,000 redundancies and slash the pay and conditions of remaining staff.

The chairman of Parliament’s Transport Select Committee Huw Merriman MP accused BA and Willie Walsh, head of parent company IAG, of being “opportunistic”.

Merriman told aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst: “Willie Walsh has tried to change the terms and conditions of BA staff before and failed.

“The Covid-19 crisis appears to give Walsh an opportunity to put these changes through before he rides off into the sunset.”

Fellow committee member Rob Langan MP said: “The government is supporting BA, but it appears the financial support is being used as a buffer in order to progress significant redundancies. It’s a very clear strategy by BA.”

Langan asked Tolhurst: “Should the government be continuing to give financial aid to BA when 12,000 workers are being made redundant.”

Tolhurst told the committee: “We have been clear the job retention scheme is to retain jobs and we’re willing to have conversations with businesses that need further support.

“We would rather BA make use of government schemes than make these redundancies. But businesses will be making decisions about how to manage their business going forward.

“Ultimately, businesses can enter into negotiations with the employees and government is not part of that. Businesses have to make decisions on a commercial basis.”

Earlier, British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) general secretary Brian Strutton accused airlines of “exaggerating” the impact of the Covid-19 crisis to “downside operations”.

Strutton told MPs: “Airlines are exaggerating the problems. The predictions of five or six years before a recovery that some are issuing are not in line with industry forecasts.

“Iata says that by the end of 2022 aviation will be back to the level of 2019. That is its latest forecast. Airlines are over-egging the pudding to make changes and downsize their operations.”

Strutton said: “We find it appalling that while we’re in the middle of job retention arrangements, BA has started consultation on redundancies and pay reductions.

“We know there need to be changes. We’re open to that. [But] we believe this is an opportunistic land grab by airlines to exploit the situation.”

He insisted: “Airlines that have taken government money should be told ‘Don’t make these decisions now. Honour your agreements.”