Swissport to axe more than 4,500 jobs

Ground handling firm Swissport job losses underscore urgent need for aviation sector support package

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The country’s largest ground handling firm Swissport announced on Wednesday (June 24) that it would be planning to make more than half of its staff redundant, in the latest blow for the aviation sector and its dedicated workers.

The news that the firm is now consulting on cutting up to 4,556 jobs out of a total workforce of 8,500 has prompted Unite to reiterate its call for a tailored support package for the aviation sector, which has been hit particular hard by the coronavirus pandemic as flights were effectively ground to a halt since the lockdown started.

Providing ground handling services to many major airlines, including ticketing and baggage handling, Swissport operates in airports throughout the UK, such as Heathrow and Gatwick and a number of others.

Although many airlines will begin to resume flights as the lockdown measures are eased, Swissport highlighted that its revenue is expected to take a 50 per cent drop compared to last year.  

Swissport CEO Jason Holt wrote in a message to staff, “We are now facing a long period of uncertainty and reduced flight numbers, along with significant changes taking place to the way people travel and the way goods move around the world.

“There is no escaping the fact that the industry is now smaller than it was, and it will remain so for some time to come.”

Unite in Scotland highlighted that it fears more than 800 Swissport jobs could be culled in Scotland alone, with with up to 70 at Aberdeen, up to 300 jobs at Edinburgh and up to 440 at Glasgow Airports, which the union believes would threaten the viability of each airport’s operations.

Unite regional industrial officer in Scotland Pat McIlvogue called the announcement ‘devastating’.

“We are now witnessing the domino effect cascading throughout the civil aviation industry from cabin crew to airport workers through to baggage handlers and security staff,” he said. “The industry is so integrated that if one domino falls – they all do.

“It’s an imperative that the Scottish and UK Governments bring forward a tailored supportive package for the industry because if we don’t then thousands of jobs will be lost and when we come out of lockdown there will be no workers in any major Scottish airports left to support the industry getting back off the ground.” 

Unite national officer Oliver Richardson agreed as he highlighted the urgency of the situation.

 “We can’t wait any longer,” he said. “The UK Government needs to urgently intervene with a bespoke financial package and an extension of the 80 per cent furlough scheme for the aviation industry.

 “Speed is of the essence if the government is to save thousands of aviation jobs and livelihoods. It’s not too late.”

Responding to the Swissport job losses announcement, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner criticised the government for its failure thus far to act. He tweeted:

The Swissport job losses come after new research on the UK aviation industry found that as many as 124,000 jobs in the sector and its supply chain are at risk and could vanish in just three months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report, written jointly by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), aviation unions including Unite, and climate action charity Possible and published earlier this month, insists that without government bailouts designed around protecting workers, at least 70,000 jobs are likely to be lost.

By Hajera Blagg

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