As Unite launches its campaign to save UK aerospace today (July 2), the union highlights the existential threat the sector faces amid the coronavirus crisis and is calling on the government to step in urgently with a package of support.
This week, 10,000 jobs in the UK have gone in a single day – and nearly a fifth of these were from Airbus earlier this week, when the aerospace giant said it would cut nearly 2,000 jobs in the UK.
New research published by Unite has shown that the aerospace industry is an absolutely vital sector for the overall economy – it directly employs more than 100,000 people, with many more thousands working in the wider supply chain.
The UK’s aerospace industry is the largest in Europe and the third largest globally. It is among one of the most productive sectors in the UK economy, with a turnover of £38bn, which generates £9bn for the UK economy every single year.
The industry is also geographically widespread — with high concentrations of jobs in the South West, providing 26,600 jobs, East Midlands with 25,900 jobs, the North West with 22,400 and Wales with 11,700 – and so brings prosperity to a diversity of regions.
Many of the biggest employers in aerospace including Airbus UK, BAE Systems, Bombardier, GKN, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo MW and Thales Group have said they plan to make significant redundancies, demonstrating precisely what is at stake if the government refuses to step in.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury has suggested that those countries with governments most supportive of their aerospace industries will be the most attractive to business. Unite has said this underscores the need to follow the lead of countries such as Germany and France, where the governments there have granted aerospace sector-specific support.
‘Survive, rebuild, recover‘
Unite has called on the government to adopt the union’s support programme, to ‘survive, rebuild and recover’.
To help the industry survive, Unite is asking that the government extend and adapt its jobs retention scheme, including through a shorter working week scheme, such as the one in Germany which has helped, for example, keep Rolls-Royce jobs losses to 5 per cent while in the UK 25 per cent of jobs are being lost.
To support the sector in rebuilding, Unite has suggested, among other measures, a government-supported aircraft replacement scheme to help the aviation sector dramatically reduce its carbon footprint. New aircraft on average use 25 per cent less fuel, emit 25 per cent less CO2 and produce 50 per cent less noise. Production and parts must come from the UK, Unite has said.
The union has also called on the government to invest in UK defence programmes by making a long-term commitment to a future ﬁghter Tempest programme and to its own version of the European Union’s Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS).
Finally, to help the aerospace sector recover, Unite has asked that the government give continued support for aerospace apprenticeships to close the growing skills gap across an ageing workforce. The union has also emphasised the need for flexibility with the government apprenticeship levy so, for example, companies can draw on their funds to support apprentices in their UK supply chain.
To press the government to adopt this strategy, Unite is calling on everyone to pile on the pressure by writing to their MPs – all you have to do is enter your postcode here to find your MP, their contact details and Unite’s template letter you can adapt to get your voice heard.
Commenting on the launch of Unite’s aerospace campaign, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “Unless we see comprehensive action to support UK aerospace now, then this world-class industry could well be lost on the Johnson government’s watch. There is not a moment more to be lost.
“This is a sector that generates billions for the national coffers, helping fund our NHS, public services and the government’s promised infrastructure spend. It supports jobs the length and breadth of the country and is central to UK national security. We really cannot understand the government’s silence or failure to act,” he added.
“Aerospace is exactly the sort of high-skilled industry, based in the communities that need to be at the heart of the PM’s promised levelling up efforts, that ministers repeatedly say they want to thrive and as part of a wider manufacturing sector, must be centre stage in our economic programme to recover and rebuild,” Turner went on to say.
He praised the “flexible, committed workforce” which he said “stepped up during this crisis, manufacturing ventilators and other equipment desperately needed for the NHS and to protect the public”.
“They deserve so much more than a government that turns a deaf ear to requests for assistance,” Turner noted.
“While aerospace workers in France and Germany are being embraced by their government, kept in decent paid work, working a shorter working week and retraining in preparation for the upturn, playing their part in building a greener, stronger economy, our government’s inertia will see thousands of jobs lost and more of our business move overseas,” he added.
“The industry and the workforce speak with one voice on the need for urgent action to ensure that UK aerospace survives, rebuilds and recovers. Employers urgently need a signal and the confidence that assistance is coming.
“Without this, the jobs lost in recent weeks will snowball into an avalanche of further redundancies and the global prestige of this industry, built up by generations of workers, will be destroyed.”
Find out more about Unite’s Protect UK Aerospace campaign, and how you can get involved writing to your MP, here.
By Hajera Blagg