Coronavirus: MPs lambast British Airways for its treatment of employees during crisis

·Finance and news reporter
British Airways has said that it is pursuing cutbacks that could result in 12,000 job losses. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)
British Airways has said that it is pursuing cutbacks that could result in 12,000 job losses. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)

The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company IAG (IAG.L) towards its employees during the coronavirus crisis has been a “national disgrace,” according to the transport committee of the House of Commons.

Referencing the airline’s cost-cutting measures, which could result in 12,000 job losses, the committee said in a report that British Airways was engaged in a “calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic.”

It also cited the potential downgrading of the terms and conditions of approximately 35,000 employees. British Airways cabin crew face a 55% cut to their salaries under new contracts.

The committee said the behaviour “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.”

In April, British Airways used the government’s wage-subsidy scheme to furlough 30,000 staff until the end of May. But, despite the extension of the scheme by the government, the airline said it was pursuing cutbacks that could result in 12,000 job losses.

READ MORE: BA, EasyJet, and Ryanair launch legal action against UK quarantine

“The impact of coronavirus may sadly mean that the loss of some jobs in the aviation sector is justified. The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company, IAG, is not,” said Huw Merriman, the chair of the committee.

“This wanton destruction of a loyal work force cannot appear to go without sanction — by government, parliamentarians or paying passengers who may choose differently in future. We view it is as a national disgrace,” he said.

In a statement, a spokeperson for British Airways pointed to a May tweet from Merriman, in which he wrote that the committees report would be “fuelled by the kind and impassioned messages” received by employees and passengers.

“The facts are clear,” the spokesperson said. “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,” they said.

In other respects, the committee sided with British Airways, noting that it was “concerned” by the government’s decision to introduce a blanket 14-day quarantine period for travellers to the UK.

Alongside EasyJet (EZJ.L) and Ryanair (RYA.L), British Airways on Friday launched a legal challenge against the measures, arguing that the rules will have a detrimental impact on the country’s tourism sector.

In a statement, the airlines said that they had asked for a judicial review of the quarantine.

READ MORE: British Airways cabin crew pay slashed under grim new contract

“This will further damage both the recovery of the sector and the wider economy. We are not persuaded this is the right policy option at this time compared to the alternatives,” the committee said of the quarantine in its summary.

The travel industry has argued that the quarantine period could be a “killer blow” during a period in which airlines are already confronting an unprecedented crisis in coronavirus.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in its financial outlook report earlier this week that the global airline industry would lose $84bn (£66bn) this year.

A separate report from think tank the New Economic Forum warned that as many as 70,000 jobs linked to the aviation industry were at “immediate” risk due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines such as EasyJet, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, and Ryanair have also announced plans to slash thousands of jobs.