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Lawmakers brand British Airways job cuts a 'national disgrace'

[LONDON] UK lawmakers lashed out at British Airways (BA) over plans for 12,000 job cuts, saying the carrier had sought to exploit the coronavirus crisis to slash headcount and weaken employment terms for remaining staff.

The House of Commons transport committee said in a report on the pandemic's impact on aviation that while some workforce reductions were inevitable, BA had made a calculated bid to take advantage of the situation even as the state was paying the wages of employees through a national furlough programme.

"The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company towards its employees is a national disgrace," the report said. "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."

As well as planning to cut almost 30 per cent of its payroll, BA warned that it would dismiss all of its 4,300 pilots and rehire them on new contracts in the absence of a deal to save money. The unit of IAG has since struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that it's looking at offering voluntary redundancy to pilots and other staff as an alternative to compulsory dismissals.

The committee urged UK aviation to hold off on headcount decisions until the furlough programme ends in October and called on the government to change the rules to penalise firms imposing sweeping cuts while receiving taxpayer funds.

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It also said the government and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should review airport slot allocation in light of structural and market change. Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst said this month she might ask the CAA to confiscate BA slots over the job cuts, before cautioning that that's not possible under the current system.

In a statement responding to the committee's findings, BA said it's battling to survive the Covid-19 crisis and that it will retain the maximum number of jobs consistent with a shrunken travel market. It added that the state has no plans to help the sector recover, citing the impact on demand of newly introduced quarantine requirements against which it's mounting a legal challenge.

The parliamentary committee also criticised the quarantine policy, saying it should be dropped when up for review at the end of this month in favour of a "flexible and risk-based approach to border control".

The Airlines UK lobby group praised those remarks but said the report failed to address the "existential crisis" facing the industry. It's appealing for tax cuts and support for air traffic control and other costs to help UK firms as their European rivals benefit from state bailouts.


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