West Midlands aerospace industry at ‘five to midnight’ as government stays silent on support

Unite, the West Midlands’ leading union, is warning that the region’s world-beating aerospace industry is at ‘five to midnight’, staring at the loss of thousands of highly skilled jobs and billions in economic contribution unless the sector receives urgent support from the government.

The union is appealing to the people of the region to get behind its campaign to keep jobs and incomes in the community.

Unite’s warning comes after Collins Aerospace announced 300 potential redundancies at its sites in Wolverhampton, Birmingham Marston Green as well as at Banbury in Oxfordshire. Aerospace parts firm SPS Technologies has also announced 100 job losses at its factory in Rugby. Meanwhile West Midlands employer Rolls Royce is planning to shed 3,000 jobs across the UK.

With a huge decline in new orders and maintenance work – a knock-on effect from the pandemic hit to the aviation sector – many more jobs are at risk in the industry right across the region. More than 12,000 aerospace redundancies have already been announced in the UK.

Unite issued its jobs warning following the publication of a new report by economic experts Acuity Analysis, which details the challenges facing the West Midlands’ and the entire UK aerospace sector. The analysis profiles the importance of the sector to the region’s economy and reveals:

  • The West Midlands region is heavily reliant on the aerospace sector, with 5,100 workers being employed in the sector.
  • There are 100 employers in the region split between 50 manufacturing companies and 50 companies specialising in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of aircraft.
  • Major aerospace employers in the region include BAE, Bombardier, GKN, Rolls Royce and Collins Aerospace.
  • The sector is incredibly valuable for the region generating £756 million in gross value added per annum.

According to Unite, which has been battling for sector support since March, large-scale job losses would have a crippling effect on both the West Midlands’ and the nation’s economies: 5,000 aerospace jobs lost would see more than £2 billion wiped off the UK’s economic output.

Unite has been pressing the UK government to follow the lead of competitor nations such as France and Germany to establish an investment programme for the sector to survive, rebuild and recover. A central call from the union is for the government to extend the jobs retention scheme to prevent the premature loss of more jobs and skills while the sector works to build back.

Unite regional officer for the West Midlands, Andy Taylor, said: “Aerospace is absolutely crucial to the West Midlands’ economy but the lack of action at Westminster means we now stand at five to midnight and could be looking at a very bleak future.

“Jobs are going by the day and our world-leading status is slipping away as other nations sense the competitive advantage in our government’s inaction.

“Without the support this sector is crying out for we will lose thousands of the highly skilled, secure jobs that we are told the UK needs and that the government wishes to encourage.

“It is a travesty that the government has not followed the lead of other countries including France and Germany to provide specific support for what is a world class industry. Worse still, the UK government’s silence on support gives our competitors a business advantage.

“We are pleading with the government. Waste no more time. Be clear that the JRS will be extended for the sector to preserve skills and jobs, and bring forward a package of support for the aerospace sector which would not only preserve jobs in the West Midlands but be the shot in the arm the national economy desperately needs.”

Unite is urging everyone who is employed directly in the aerospace industry or indirectly associated with it to contact their MP and ask them to lobby the government for support for the sector.

Andy Taylor added: “If you work in the West Midlands’ aerospace sector or know someone who does, then please help us save this flagship industry and keep our communities in work. Pick up the phone to your MP or drop them an email. Only by speaking up together can we win the future our workers absolutely deserve.”

Latest blow to civil aviation in Scotland as North Air announces redundancies

Unite Scotland has today (1 July) warned that dozens of workers employed by North Air face redundancy at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports.  is a fuel tanker company for aircraft based at both airports The proposed job cuts will mean that North Air will reduce its operations by over 30 per cent at Edinburgh airport and more than 25 per cent at Glasgow airport.

The latest blow to the civil aviation industry follows a series of companies and airlines announcing major job cuts, and the slashing of terms of conditions for the remaining workforce such as those at British Airways.

Companies operating in and from Aberdeen airport have various redundancy consultations underway – which Unite is directly involved in – threatening more than 100 jobs. At Edinburgh airport, Unite is involved in redundancy consultations affecting more than 1,000 jobs including Menzies Aviation, Swissport, ICTS, City Flyer and Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), the company which owns the airport.  At Glasgow airport, Unite is also involved in redundancy consultations affecting more than 500 workers at companies including Menzies Aviation, ICTS, and Swissport.

Last week, the country’s leading civil aviation trade union formally wrote to the first minister for the second time demanding the immediate establishment of a Civil Aviation Task Force to deal with the unfolding jobs crisis at Scotland’s three major airports resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pat McIlvogue, Unite regional industrial officer, in response to the proposed redundancies at North Air said: “North Air has worked constructively with Unite up until this point by using the UK government’s job retention scheme.  However, the company has unilaterally decided to break from this approach and it has issued redundancy notices affecting up to 30 per cent of tits workforce at Edinburgh Airport and more than 25 per cent at Glasgow airport.”

“It’s the latest domino to fall in the industry and thousands of jobs are hanging by a thread. Unite fully understands the situation facing civil aviation and that’s why we have written to the first minister last week for the second time demanding a coordinated national response so that we can safeguard thousands of Scottish jobs.”

Boris Johnson’s ‘gung-ho’ messaging heightens A&E fears as pubs reopen

NHS ambulance and A&E staff are braced ‘with a great deal of trepidation’  for the fall-out from the mass opening of pubs in England on Saturday, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, warned today (Wednesday 1 July).

If that happens, Unite will blame the ‘gung-ho and mixed messaging’ from prime minister Boris Johnson for putting too much emphasis on the easing of the lockdown and not sufficient weight on the need to still follow the social distancing rules.

The warning from Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, came as Britons were estimated to spend £200 million in pubs this weekend, as the hospitality sector reopens on Saturday (4 July).

Already Unite’s 3,000 ambulance members have reported in the last few weeks an increase in accidents at illegal parties; more young people saying they have Covid-19 symptoms; and an increase in ‘non-essential’ calls that could be dealt with by such services as NHS 111.

There has also been an increase in the use of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’, at these illegal parties. These canisters can be purchased cheaply off the internet.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Our ambulance members have reported an increase in calls in recent weeks and, unfortunately, some of them are related to the flouting of the social distancing rules.

“So it is with deep concern that our members in the ambulance service and in A&E departments are preparing themselves for the fall-out from a badly behaved minority when pubs reopen on Saturday.

“If that happens, we will blame the gung-ho mixed messaging from Boris Johnson who has put more emphasis on easing the lockdown and people enjoying themselves this weekend than with telling people to adhere strictly to the social distancing measures. 

“Unite is not trying to restrict people’s enjoyment and we fully support our members in the hospitality sector who have had a really tough time since March.

“But people need to heed the advice of England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty who has said social distancing remains vital, otherwise the rates of Covid-19 infection will rise again, as has been seen in Leicester.

“Sunday (5 July) is the NHS’ 72nd birthday, so it would be a rich irony that after weeks of Thursday evening clapping and warm words of ministerial praise, dedicated NHS staff spend the weekend clearing up drunken vomit due to mixed messaging.”

Chair of the Unite ambulance committee Debbie Wilkinson said: “Our members are bracing themselves with a great deal of trepidation about what is going to happen this weekend, when excessive drinking could see many more visits to A&E departments.

“Ambulance colleagues have noticed for some time that some people are not following the rules and this is really serious as we have more than 43,000 deaths in the UK from Covid-19. We have seen a rise in young, fit people signalling that they have coronavirus symptoms.

“There has been an increase in accidents at illegal parties, as well as the use of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’.

“Sadly, we have also seen more people getting in touch, following the lockdown, with very serious illnesses, such as cancer, who should have been seen during the last few months. For some, unfortunately, it is too late.

“People need to behave with responsibility and consideration for others this weekend and not put the NHS under further pressure.”

100 aerospace jobs under threat in Dorset is latest blow to county’s economy, says Unite

More than 100 jobs at Magellan Aerospace’s operation in Dorset are under threat in the wake of the job losses at Airbus for which it supplies aerospace parts.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Wednesday 1 July) that the job losses at the Bournemouth and Poole sites would be ‘very grim’ for the workers, their families and the regional economy.

Unite regional officer Janet Wall said: “Due to a steep decline in orders from Airbus and Boeing because of Covid-19,  the company is planning to make more than 100 workers redundant – 96 by 1 September with a further six roles to go by 1 December. It also plans to close its Poole site.

“This is a very grim blow for the workers and their families, and will also have a knock on effect for the Dorset economy which depends on these skilled workers’ wages to lubricate economic activity.

“Unfortunately, this is part of an emerging trend in Dorset where many small to medium size engineering firms are contracting and making staff redundant because of the massive adverse impact of the pandemic on the UK’s aerospace industry.

“Unite is fighting hard for these workers’ jobs, but the reality is, if more orders don’t start rolling in soon, these jobs will be gone – that’s why the government must step up to the plate to support the aerospace sector as has been done in France and Germany.”

Last night Airbus said that that it is to slash 1,727 UK jobs which Unite branded as ‘another act of industrial vandalism’ against the country’s under-attack aerospace sector.

Magellan Aerospace, part of the Canadian multinational, produces parts for the aerospace industry, primarily for Airbus and Boeing. It currently employs about 250 staff at the two sites in Dorset.

Airbus job cuts ‘vandalism’ – but UK government sits on sidelines while a national asset is destroyed

Unite, the UK’s leading manufacturing union, has described today’s announcement by Airbus that it is to slash 1,727 UK jobs as ‘another act of industrial vandalism’ against the country’s under-attack aerospace sector.

Calling on the government to stop watching from the sidelines while a national asset is destroyed, the union said that No 10 must ‘step up to the plate’, just as leaders in France and Germany have, to protect the sector. In recent weeks, jobs have gone hand over fist in the UK while other competitor governments shore up their businesses and actively protect jobs.

Airbus says that the jobs will go right across its UK operations including at its largest factories at Broughton in North Wales and Filton in Bristol. 1,116 UK manufacturing jobs will be lost alongside 611 office-based jobs as Airbus seeks to shrink its workforce by 15 percent.

However, while jobs are also going in France, Spain and Germany, extended government job retention programmes in those countries of up to 24 months means that no jobs will be lost in those countries in the immediate term.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This is yet another act of industrial vandalism and a terrible insult to our incredible UK workforce who deserve so much better from our government.

“Over the weeks of this crisis, this country’s aerospace jobs have gone hand over fist yet not one word of support or act of assistance has been forthcoming from the government.

“The UK government is watching from the sidelines while a national asset is destroyed.

“The only words uttered by the government in relation to UK aerospace during this entire crisis came out of the blue today in relation to the prime minister’s UK-made ‘Jet Zero’ project.  But while our world-class industry is shedding skills and workers at the present rate, this project will be nothing more than a PR fantasy.

“The prime minister and his team must step up to the plate. UK aerospace workers deserve the same support and investment that Mr Macron and Ms Merkel provide to their workers.  Airbus workers in France and Germany have up to two years to work to fend off their redundancies and turn their businesses around while in the UK the axe falls with immediate effect.

“With every day that goes by without any action to support this sector from the UK government, our competitors cheer.

“Of course, immediate job losses at a word-class company like Airbus underlines the challenges faced by the aerospace sector, caused by the massive downturn in aviation in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But we are in no doubt that it is absolutely essential that the government could do so much more. For a start, it could extend the job retention scheme for sectors such as aerospace which have been most severely hit by the pandemic.  

“If not, there will be an avalanche of job losses this summer – and a world-class aerospace sector built over generations and with so much more to give this country will be lost.”

Airbus plans would have “devastating impact” for Welsh economy

Airbus is one of Wales key anchor companies and is central to the future prosperity of the Welsh economy. Any significant loss of jobs at Broughton would further accelerate job losses in the aerospace sector in Wales. The past week has already seen job losses at both Magellan Aerospace and MIC.

Peter Hughes, Unite Wales Regional Secretary commented:

“The significance of large scale job losses at Airbus would have a devastating impact on the aerospace sector in Wales and on the wider Welsh economy. Unite has been calling for the UK Government to put a plan of support in place for the Aerospace sector for months. This support has been provided by France and Germany, will the UK Government now step up to the plate and do everything required to support UK aviation jobs?

“We are calling upon Airbus to hold their nerve and step back from implementing their plan. Everything must be done to engage with Government to see if the necessary support can be provided to delay this decision until this crisis abates. Certainly further extension of the furlough scheme to the aerospace sector would be a medium term solution whilst it rebuilds and recovers.

“Unite will not accept any proposal that involves compulsory redundancy for our members. The workforce at Broughton is world class, and have shown time and again how they are able to adapt and evolve their working practices to maintain the sites position as a central cog in Airbus European operations. Unite is open to working constructively with Airbus to look at all options available in order to maintain the maximum number of jobs at Broughton. Everyone in Wales recognises how important Airbus can be to the economic recovery of Wales post-Covid19. If the UK Government does not step in now to ensure the support is there for Airbus to get through this crisis, the consequences for Wales could be catastrophic”.

EasyJet jobs announcement ‘massive blow’ and highlights the need for government action

Major job losses

This latest announcement of major job losses in aviation again highlights the failure of the government to provide urgently needed specific support to protect jobs and airports. This is in stark contrast to many other major countries which have provided multi-billion pound support packages for their aviation industries including France, Germany, Spain and the United States.

The union is also questioning easyJet’s decision to make workers redundant given that the company has received a £600 million loan from the government and has also recently paid out £174 million as a dividend to shareholders.

Massive blow

Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson said: “This is yet another massive blow to the aviation industry and our thoughts are with workers who face losing their jobs through no fault of their own.

 “There is no need for this announcement at this time, especially since easyJet has taken a multi-million pounds government loan which it ought to be putting to use defending UK jobs.

 “This is a company with its priorities all wrong.  It has paid a multi-million dividend to its shareholders, borrowed hundred of millions from the government to buy new aircraft and has fully utilised the jobs retention scheme.  It absolutely should not be allowed to make huge redundancies a few weeks later.

 “The latest announcement further demonstrates why it is absolutely essential that the government extends its job retention scheme for the aviation sector, which has been one of the industries worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We are now more than three months on since the Chancellor promised support for UK aviation.  

 “The government’s ongoing failure to provide such support is directly resulting in huge job losses throughout the industry and is threatening the viability of airlines and airports alike.

 “The aviation industry is essential to the future prosperity of the UK’s economy and it is essential that the UK government, steps up to the plate and provides specific support in line with other nations.”

Blueprint for industry

Unite has produced a blueprint of how the government should intervene across the entire aviation sector including airlines and airports to protect the jobs and conditions of workers. Such loans would come with strict strings attached regarding executive pay, corporate governance and requiring stringent environmental standards to be adopted to radically reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

Drax power station workers gear up for strike ballot after rejecting offer on redundancies

Workers at the Drax power station in north Yorkshire are gearing up to hold a ballot for strike action over 230 proposed redundancies, after overwhelmingly rejecting the latest offer from the company.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Tuesday 30 June) that the prospect of strike action later this summer had resurfaced after the union’s members had rejected the management’s latest offer by 84 per cent in a consultative ballot.

Unite said that if the workers voted for strike action it would be the first time that such action had taken place at the highly profitable plant, owned by the Drax Group Ltd.

The dispute centres on the six-unit site at Selby where the company is planning to close two coal-fired units next April. The other four units are bio mass, using wood chip pellets. The coal powered units are being replaced by gas generation ones.

Unite said that when the pay deal was hammered out last year, it was agreed that there would be no compulsory redundancies amongst the 600-strong workforce, but the company has now backtracked on that agreement.

Unite regional officer Shane Sweeting said: “The members have rejected the revised offer by an 84 per cent majority and voted to proceed to an industrial action ballot.

“Our members even offered to take a pay and bonus freeze to improve redundancy terms and maintain jobs, but that has been rejected by the bosses. 

“This must be seen against a background of a soaring share price based on the future development at Drax and huge profits of £415 million generated in the last financial year by the Selby site alone.

“However if the company adopted a scheme of natural wastage as workers left or retired, this would cost just £25 million a year for a limited period until the workforce is reduced.

“What we have here is a classic case of bad faith by the management as this highly profitable company pledged there would no compulsory redundancies when the pay deal was agreed in 2019.

“They backtracked on this promise, despite the Selby staff working flat-out during the pandemic and being classed as key workers. So we are now preparing for the strike ballot which will be held in July.”

Link between migrant worker exploitation and Covid-19 meat processing outbreaks ‘must be addressed’

Although conditions within refrigerated meat processing factories have been cited as a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, Unite said there is also a direct correlation between the treatment of migrant staff as ‘disposable assets’ and the spread of the disease in such environments.

This is particularly true in meat processing factories that do not provide staff that need to self-isolate with company sick pay or any other form of financial support, as it increases the danger of individuals with Covid-19 going into work because they cannot afford to take time off.

The union also raised concerns about track and trace record keeping for agency workers, such as production line staff and cleaners, who often work at multiple sites and whose contact details may not be available or could be overlooked during infection control procedures.

Industry employment standards are also directly linked to overcrowded housing which are a contributing factor to the risk of outbreaks within factories.

A recent Unite survey, comprising of 20 per cent of the workforce at a Covid-19 impacted meat processing plant staffed overwhelmingly by migrant workers, found that 43 per cent of respondents live with two or more colleagues (at least three to a house) and 11 per cent live with five or more.

Nearly 65 per cent of the 150 respondents said they have attended work whilst unwell, with 69 per cent of those doing so because they could not afford to lose pay. Just 10 per cent of respondents said they have been tested for Covid-19.

Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Exploitation driven by corporate greed is a major factor in the public health emergencies amongst meat processing plants here and in other countries.

“Migrant workers, who often do not speak English and are scared to speak out because they fear losing their jobs, suffer under a relentless system that long predates Covid-19 in which they are treated without dignity or respect. Exploitation is so rife within the sector that Unite is also concerned that some workers are vulnerable to modern slavery. 

“This issue is now being brought to public attention because of its impact on the UK’s ability to stem the virus. People can see that the treatment of staff in the sector as disposable assets is unjust, unsustainable and a danger to public health. 

“As a priority, employers and government must end the terrible situation where workers are having to choose between self-isolating or going into work because they cannot afford to be ill. Unite also has concerns over whether employers are able to provide contact details for agency workers, who often work at multiple sites under murky employment structures, to facilitate track and trace efforts. 

“It is imperative that ministers and industry commit to a root and branch reform of the meat processing sector. The dire working conditions, low pay and insecure employment that blight the industry and have now come back to bite the nation’s efforts to defeat the coronavirus must be addressed.” 

McCluskey response to PM’s speech: Workers urgently need a bridge to the new economy to avert a jobs abyss

Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, said:  “We welcome the prime minister’s promise to build our way back better than before. That’s a fine ambition but it has to be matched with the ambition and the investment which accompanied FDR’s new deal.  

“Today, however, we appear to have only been promised FDR’s loose change and some second-hand spending plans. While the US got the Hoover dam, the pandemic-hit UK gets a re-announcement of repairs to some bridges in Sandwell.

“There is no doubt that this country’s frayed infrastructure needs investment, so we hope that there is much more to come from the prime minister. 

“But this can only be part of the promise to the people of the country. The bald truth is that our country is staring at a jobs abyss which will open up this summer and swallow millions of working people.  Averting that needs urgent and immediate investment to keep people in work now, with steady wages coming home now, not the promise of an infrastructure project sometime in the future.

“I urge the prime minister to confirm that very soon we will hear that his government will follow in the footsteps of France and Germany with a proper plan to save and grow jobs in the immediate term and on the scale so desperately needed.  

“He should begin by announcing that the jobs retention scheme will be extended at least until 2021, as it has been in France and Germany, so that there is a bridge between today and the emerging economy he promises.  

“Without that bridge, employers will shed jobs in huge numbers this summer and the trauma and havoc of this virus will give way to the trauma and enduring human misery of mass unemployment.”