Coronavirus: Workers must have a seat at table at aviation summit

Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, which represents tens of thousands of workers across the entire aviation sector is urging the government not to ignore the voice of workers when discussing assistance for the industry.

Possible summit

Yesterday (Monday 16 March) transport secretary Grant Shapps said he planned to meet with aviation executive this week to discuss how to support the sector which has been forced to cancel thousands of flights and ground hundreds of planes as a result of the coronavirus, however Unite as yet has not been invited to such a meeting.

In recent days, Unite has been in numerous negotiations with airlines, airports and companies in their supply chain about unpaid leave, temporary lay-offs and redundancies.

Four point plan

Unite is urging the government to adopt a four point plan to help ensure that the whole industry can survive the current crisis:

  • The government to make contributions to cover workers’ pay to ensure that the UK’s aviation infrastructure remains intact, and the consideration of taking a commensurate financial stake in airlines and airports to help ensure their survival
  • To ease the immediate financial pressures there should be an immediate provision for the extension of loans to airlines and airports and other aviation companies to enable them to ease the pressure of the immediate pay back of loans and to assist in the retention of staff and the preservation of routes
  • A delay in the payment of taxes and duties that airlines are obliged to pay including a temporary suspension or reduction in Air Passenger Duty (APD)
  • Government to support routes through subsidies under public service obligation rules, which are tied to long-term environmental commitments as part of an integrated sustainable transport network.

European action

If the government does not provide immediate substantial financial support, which is in line with what is already in progress in other European countries including France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Unite questions whether there will be a functioning industry, for when demand returns once the current crisis eases.

Workers’ fears

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Workers throughout the entire aviation sector are incredibly fearful about their futures and it would be wrong of the government to exclude their voice from future negotiations.

 “The government should not be simply providing financial support to the airports, airlines and other aviation employers but they must ensure that the workforce are also protected through this crisis.

 “The coronavirus (COVID-19) is creating unprecedented challenges and it is essential that all stakeholders are fully involved in working on the solutions to the existential problems the sector is facing.

 “Other European countries are providing direct financial assistance to workers and the UK government must follow suit and provide similar support.”

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