Unite the union, which represents over 60,000 workers in aviation, has developed a radical blueprint to allow the sector to continue to operate and meet new demands in a post COVID-19 world.
Industry bodies estimate that the aviation sector may not return to anything like normal until the second half of 2021 and at that time passenger numbers could only be at 90 per cent of pre-crisis levels. A decline in such numbers would in that period make many flights and carriers uneconomic under the current aviation model.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Grant Shapps setting out what steps Unite believes need to be taken to secure the long-term viability of the UK aviation industry. Mr McCluskey was clear that these should form the basis of the previously promised, but as yet undelivered, government aviation package.
Unite believes that to have a viable future, and to meet climate change challenges, it is inevitable that the industry must change and that there could be wider scale consolidation across all parts of the sector and for this to occur the government will need to initially provide finance.
The crucial sections of the sector which form the basic infrastructure of the industry and need to be protected are all airports, airlines and air traffic control, in order to guarantee that the sector remains viable in the UK.
Unite is launching a campaign to ensure that the government takes the necessary action to guarantee the future of the aviation sector and is seeking the support of businesses and politicians and other key opinion formers.
In his letter Mr McCluskey sets out several measures the government should adopt:
- The government needs to provide loans and/or take a financial stake in companies. All loans and stakes to be fully repayable
- Companies who participate in such a scheme are prohibited from paying dividends, undertaking share buybacks or capital contributions, until 12 months after the loan is fully repaid
- All elements of executive pay will be capped
- Employment and employee terms and conditions protected, with any reduction in workforce restricted to 10 per cent or less
- Companies eligible for such support would either be suffering losses, acting to consolidate business, or to rescue or replace a part of the sector that no longer exists.
- All financial support and loans should be provided on the condition that recipients have a clear programme of transition to more efficient and greener travel operations
- Smaller airports and air traffic control, as well as specific routes within the UK’s aviation network, should be publicly financed in order to retain much needed and vital connectivity.
Unite’s blueprint is similar to those which are being discussed and promoted by unions and aviation groups throughout the European Union and is comparable to the $45 billion bailout the Unite States government recently provided to its aviation industry.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The action of the government in furloughing workers is an excellent first step in preserving jobs and companies in the aviation sector but further radical action is needed to secure its future.
“As an island aviation is crucial to the UK for trade, business and maintaining social and family networks.
“Even during the COVID 19 pandemic aviation has continued to play a vital role delivering critically needed supplies such as medicines as well as repatriating citizens from around the world.
“We know that the Treasury and the government is rightly looking at the shape of the economy on the other side of this crisis and Unite hopes that it will appreciate the union is acting as an honest broker whose concern is protecting jobs, an essential service, the economy and not shareholders and the boardroom.”
“What is clear is that the UK aviation sector will not simply fully restart once the lockdown ends and if we are to have the viable industry that the UK needs and which provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, further radical action is required.
“The UK’s aviation sector can and will have a viable future but it is going to look very different to what existed prior to the pandemic. The government has a key strategic role in shaping the future of what is and should remain, a world class sector.
“We need a sector which meets the needs of the economy and the public rather than that of shareholders and directors, while at the same time maintaining employment. Unite’s blueprint will achieve this.
“In its election manifesto the government committed to enhancing regional connectivity. Unite believes that pledge needs to be honoured as well as ensuring international connectivity is maintained.”