Unite joined unions and the wider aviation and travel industry in a remarkable cross-sector alliance that came out in force for a day of action on Wednesday (June 23), demanding government support.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost in the travel industry — in airlines, at airports, travel agents, tour operators, and the wider supply chain including the aerospace sector — since the pandemic began. While other industries have begun to bounce back as coronavirus restrictions have eased, the travel sector, which still faces stringent restrictions, especially on international travel, has been left behind.
That’s why Unite joined calls for a sector-specific support package for the aviation and travel industries and the extension of the furlough scheme until at least March next year.
UniteLive spoke to several members in the sector who attended the ‘Speak Up for Travel’ demo outside Parliament on Wednesday (June 23), which drew a large and diverse crowd.
Unite rep Antonio (pictured below), who works for the airline easyJet at Gatwick airport, explained just how difficult the last year has been.
“It’s been really difficult since the pandemic started because we’ve been through a redundancy process and all the airlines have been affected by that,” he said. “Jobs have been destroyed and we need to rebuild the airline industry as soon as possible.
“We’ve got all the tools to do that – we have vaccinations and the UK is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world,” he added. “Now is the time to open for at least those who have been fully vaccinated and then we can start to rebuild the industry.”
Unite rep Peter Breslin, who is in the union’s British Airways Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) branch, representing cabin crew at Heathrow Airport, also expressed grave concern for the future of the aviation industry, and told how he and his colleagues have suffered.
“Over the last year, we’ve lost more than 4,000 members because fire and rehire policy that happened last year,” he explained. “My own partner lost his job. This year, because of the restrictions on international travel and the traffic light system, which wasn’t very clear, we’re now facing more uncertainty.
“Our crew members have been through a horrible time last year and you can feel that anxiety and tension start to rise again because there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for aviation it seems,” Peter added. “Furlough ends in September and we’re really worried about that because once furlough ends if there’s not a package of support for aviation we’re going to be in the situation we were in last year where cabin crew, which are the biggest part of the airline, are always the biggest target when it comes to cost savings and redundancies – we’re going to face more redundancies unfortunately. That’s my biggest fear.”
Unite easyJet rep Emma Bond (pictured below) echoed Peter’s experiences, and said she and her colleagues were at Wednesday’s event to plead with the government to support them.
“The main way that this crisis has affected me personally is my mental health — we went through a very difficult time last year,” she said, adding that being a rep was especially stressful in a year when so many people lost their jobs. “We got through it but it’s been a very, very long year and we just need help to get back in the air again and flying.
“We need financial support and we need government to extend the furlough scheme beyond September,” Emma added. “We need people who are double vaccinated to be able to travel more freely and we need the traffic light system to be more clear and concise because it’s just devastating our industry.”
Unite Executive Council (EC) member for the South East, Dominic Rothwell, who represents aviation workers in the region and at Gatwick Airport, also warned of the consequences for the sector if the government doesn’t step up to support it.
“Unite members who I represent in the South East have gone through a year of absolute hell,” he explained. “Many of them have lost their jobs, they’re at risk of losing their homes, and mental health is a in a crisis in the industry. Unite members are crying out for support from the industry and from the UK government. Without their help, more jobs will be lost, more people will be made unemployed, more people will lose their homes. The time to act is now.”
Meanwhile UniteLive also heard from Unite member Mary (pictured below, right), a Blue Badge tour guide who, as a self-employed worker, has had her livelihood decimated because of the govenrment’s failure to support people like her.
“My work has been totally cancelled last year and this year too,” she explained. “We have bookings for next year but are they going to come off? We really don’t know.
“There have been some payments for self-employed guides, but I fell through the loopholes so I didn’t get any compensation at all,” she added. “Colleagues haven’t been able to access any funding for the last year or this year as well so that’s two years of complete unemployment. We want the government to assist us by promoting this country for incoming tourism.”
Unite assistant general secretary for transport Diana Holland (pictured below), who also attended Wednesday’s event, said she was proud to stand together with “an unprecedented alliance across aviation and travel”.
She noted that while coronavirus restrictions on travel are rightly in place to protect people during the pandemic, she added that “they cannot be introduced without recognising the impact that it’s having on our aviation and travel industries”.
“What we need is support,” Holland said. “We need transparency. There needs to be much clearer, very easy to follow ways in which countries are on the different traffic light system colours. It’s not right that nobody can plan when they don’t know and can’t see what’s going on. We need logistics to be properly worked out so that as soon as it is safer to travel, it can happen in a safe way and that we have processes that can protect everybody.
“Finally and absolutely we need extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme,” Holland continued. “This industry is on a knife edge. It has withstood only by people losing their jobs, and having their pay, terms and conditions cut. It is not right that workers pay the price when these are government decisions. This is a moment in time when we need that support – right now. On behalf of all the 90,000 aviation workers, members of Unite, the 30,000 aerospace workers, members of Unite – the whole industry. We need to come together and say to government, stop ignoring us; we need support.”
Reporting by Martin Scanlon
Text by Hajera Blagg
Pics by Barckley Sumner