COVID-19: Destructive actions by civil aviation companies

8 May 2020


Lately, a number of airlines have announced plans for mass dismissals of their workforce, among them Lufthansa with 10000, SAS with 5000, Virgin Atlantic with 3000, and Norwegian with 4000 workers being let go. One example, however, stands out as particularly opportunistic and destructive. In the run-up to International Workers Day last week, British Airways (BA) made a surprise announcement that it plans to let go up to 12000 of its workers, among them the entire cabin crew. BA plans to re-hire some cabin crew members, but only after they re-apply for the positions and on inferior contracts. This way, they will swiftly destroy the quality jobs and replace them with more precarious jobs.

BA’s decision undermines all the efforts made by trade unions to come up with a common, sector-wide solution to the crisis. Trade unions such as Unite the Union, have been in talks with the government for months now, trying to come up with a joint plan that keeps the aviation industry afloat. These actions are irresponsible and dangerous, putting thousands of workers in a precarious situation. At the same time, the company did not choose to take a different course of action and request state aid – even though other companies that are part of the International Airlines Group (IAG), such as Iberia, went in that direction.

Reacting to BA’s appalling actions, as well as other airlines’ plans, the ETF Management Committee put forward a motion at its meeting this week. In it, the members expressed their full support for the workers of British Airways and reiterated their opposition to opportunistic and destructive tactics by airlines. Using a global pandemic as an excuse to cut jobs and worsen working conditions is not acceptable!

While BA’s case is the most egregious attempt at capitalising on the crisis, other airlines have resorted to similar measures. The EU and the member states need to approach this issue jointly and ensure respect for workers’ rights every step of the way.