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Volume 50 Number 24, June 27, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Another Attack on Air Industry Jobs as Swissport Halves its British Workforce

Ground-handling business Swissport has announced that it is to make 4,556 workers redundant out of a total workforce of around 8,000. Workers at Swissport handle luggage after check-in. They also de-ice and refuel planes, and manage freight.

Swissport operates at airports across Britain, including Heathrow and Gatwick. The company, in justification for its brutal announcement, has said that its revenue is forecast to be almost 50% lower than last year due to the crisis. In April, Swissport UK threatened it would slash thousands of jobs if more government support for the aviation sector was not forthcoming.

Chief executive Jason Holt called the move "survival", and said: "We must do this to secure the lifeline of funding from lenders and investors to protect as many jobs as possible in the UK and Ireland."

Holt continued: "We are now facing a long period of uncertainty and reduced flight numbers, along with significant changes taking place to the way people travel and the way goods move around the world. There is no escaping the fact that the industry is now smaller than it was, and it will remain so for some time to come."

Unite and GMB, which represent Swissport workers, both described that announcement as "devastating news". Unite, which represents Swissport workers at Bristol and Jersey airports, added that it will be "a further blow to the already stricken South West aviation sector".

The unions point out that a dire situation is being exacerbated by the government's failure to bring forward the promised bespoke support package for the sector to support airlines and airports, Airports International reports. According to Airports International, the government first promised to back the industry on March 17, but only the job retention / furlough scheme has been introduced so far. Unite stressed that the extension of that scheme must be an "immediate priority" to preserve jobs, "giving them support and retaining the infrastructure while the industry works to recover from the pandemic".

Nadine Houghton, national officer of the GMB, said: "With Swissport now considering job cuts on this scale, we have deep concerns about the viability of many of our regional airports and the benefits for regional connectivity that they bring."

Oliver Richardson, national officer of Unite, said: "We can't wait any longer, the UK government needs to urgently intervene with a bespoke financial package and an extension of the 80% furlough scheme for the aviation industry."

The Department for Transport ducked responsibility and has said that while the aviation sector is important to the economy, aviation companies should explore existing government schemes.

It has to be asked, "How long will this trend go on?" There is destruction of capacity throughout the air industry. There are planes destined to sit unused on the tarmac until they rot unless there are better decision-makers making better decisions. The created situation is open to ridicule.

Workers and the economy cannot afford for this to go on any longer. Immediate action is required.

There is much that can be done to revive the aircraft industry in terms of Covid-19 protection, both at airports and in aircraft. Neither can the crisis be wholly blamed on the virus. There were market problems with airlines before Covid-19 came onto the scene. The question is who decides?

The problem with the private industry is that it is divided into mutually-competing parts. In conditions of the pandemic, any restart in operations requires mutual co-operation. The whole industry, including the workers, should be talking to each other to solve the problem.

The workers themselves must be the decisive voice in charting the future of the airline industry. "Business as usual" cannot be the answer, with the market dictating the terms and workers excluded from decision-making by those in control. Workers across the board should be able to take decisions and control over the future of the industry.


Pilots' union, Balpa has said that airline Jet2 is to make 102 pilots redundant

Jet2 is the latest airline to issue formal notice of redundancy and start a consultation process with its workforce.

It has bases at airports in Leeds, Birmingham, Stansted, Newcastle, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast.

The airline said it had to apply for emergency loans from the government in order to avoid collapse.

In May, Virgin Atlantic announced that it would be slashing more than 3,000 jobs and would end its operation at Gatwick. In June, German airline Lufthansa said it would cut 22,000 jobs and have 100 fewer aircraft, just weeks after the German government injected ¬9bn to prevent it from going bust.

Ryanair and easyJet have also announced that they will be cutting between 15-30% of their workforces, while British Airways is proposing to make 12,000 of its 45,000 staff redundant.

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: "Many of the pilots whose jobs are on the line in Jet2 have just recently moved there after having lost their jobs at Thomas Cook - these pilots have been through the mill already,"

Mr Strutton said Jet2 played an "extremely important role" at airports in the north of the UK, and it was important that it did not collapse: "Once again, I reiterate my call for the government to step in, call for a job cuts moratorium, and work on a strategic support package to help this industry get through this crisis."

(BBC and union sources)


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