Unite: ‘Act now’ call

Transport committee aviation report must be wake up call to govt 

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Unite, the UK’s principal aviation union, has strongly welcomed the publication of today’s (June 12) transport select committee’s report into the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation sector and made a strong call to the government to “act now” to implement its recommendations “without further delay”.

Aviation has been one of the worst affected sectors since the pandemic began, with a 97 per cent reduction in passenger flights. Every prediction is that the sector will eventually recover – but in the immediate term government investment and support is urgently required.

Over 1.2m UK jobs, spread right across the country, rely on the sector and it is critical to the UK ability to trade and compete internationally. A report commissioned by Unite has highlighted the economic impact airports have on regional economies.

Unite first called for a support package for aviation in March as soon as the devastating impact of the pandemic on aviation became clear.

A Treasury support package was first floated in mid-March yet three months on has yet to appear, prompting the cross party select committee to raise serious concerns about the “lack of detail and pace of action” in the department for transport bringing forward a strategy to help the aviation sector.

‘Strategy should be more developed’

The committee adds, “We believe and expected that the government strategy for the recovery of the aviation sector should be more developed given we are already some four months into the crisis.”

The committee also urges aviation businesses “not to proceed hastily with large scale redundancies or restructuring to terms and conditions of employees until the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) ends in October 2020 and they have had the opportunity to consider the government’s plans to help the sector restart and recover.”

Giving evidence to the inquiry, Unite assistant general secretary for transport Diana Holland, said, “The message from the select committee’s report is clear: It’s time to act. It must serve as an immediate wake up call to the government.

“Thousands of jobs in the sector are already at risk and tens of thousands of more could be lost unless the government acts decisively and intervenes to provide specific support for this vital sector for our economy, connectivity and for people.

“The chancellor first promised support for aviation in March and three months later that still has not materialised.  This is not good enough, not while countries like Spain, France and Germany, are all acting to safeguard what is agreed is a strategically vital industry, and certainly not while thousands of UK jobs are hanging by a thread,” she said.

Holland continued, “But any aviation support must not be a bailout for billionaires or concentrated on individual companies alone but strategic focussed support for the whole sector through loans and equity stakes to protect jobs, airports, airlines and routes, as well as to assist the industry to address the climate change challenge.

“The government has a one-off golden opportunity to link financial support to the requirement for the industry to rapidly reduce its carbon footprint, providing a vital shot in the arm to the aerospace industry which is also facing severe challenges due to the pandemic.

“This is also the opportunity for the government to deliver on its commitment to regional connectivity by providing direct subsidies or support via public service obligations on a far greater number of domestic routes to ensure the UK is genuinely connected.

“The aviation industry must also respect the report’s findings and stop prematurely making workers redundant.”

‘A way through this crisis’

Holland concluded, “The report paves a way through this crisis with government support and unions and industry working together.”

The report recommends that the government, working with the devolved administrations and the industry, “publishes a strategy for the restart and recovery of the aviation sector as soon as possible”, setting out how it will rapidly restore passenger air travel.

The strategy includes plans to minimise job losses while protecting pay and employee rights; work on an international basis to re-examine the airport slot allocation process to ensure it encourages competition and connectivity; protect regional connectivity within the UK and international strategic trade links; and ensure the industry delivers its environmental obligations.

The report’s finding are in line with those that Unite has promoted in its blueprint for the aviation sector, UK aviation flying into the future.

By Barckley Sumner

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