Aviation Industry — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Worker Exploitation: Leicester Textile Industry – in Westminster Hall at 2:56 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment) 2:56 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate Chris Grayling on securing this debate on an industry that is vital to my constituents, thousands of whom work at Heathrow.

I want to make a few points. First, we urgently need a plan for aviation, including a plan for passenger testing, to help get planes flying safely, inbound and outbound. Secondly, we need a realistic, targeted support package to tackle the impact of the pandemic in the medium term on jobs, businesses and aviation communities. Thirdly, we need to plan for the future and invest more, not less, in the pace of decarbonisation in the sector.

In March, the Government promised a recovery plan for aviation. Eight months later, an integrated plan has not yet been published, while redundancies continue to rise. To help the industry recover as quickly as possible, we need a robust testing regime at our airports, which could reduce quarantine. Some welcome pilots are under way, which put public health first while taking advantage of swifter testing.

The Government have said that families will be able to fly abroad for Christmas with a new testing regime, but that is still six weeks away. United Airlines has already begun pilots on the London-New York route, but closer international working is needed. Are the Government planning to commit to a common international standard for health screening measures? The UK lags behind more than 30 countries around the globe that are doing more on aviation testing.

Getting planes flying safely will be key to saving jobs, including those that will be viable for the long term. We need more flexible and targeted schemes to keep people in work, and in their jobs, until aviation recovers. In Hounslow, we have seen devastating impacts. My constituency has the third-highest number of furloughed employments in the country, but 40,000 jobs are still at risk unless we see a recovery. I thank our unions and councillors, like Councillor Khulique Malik, who works at Heathrow, for the support that they have given the community at this time.

Businesses also need to work together for the long term. I am grateful to Unite for highlighting the imbalance of power that we are seeing at Heathrow. Heathrow Airport proposes changes that could see workers’ pay cut by £8,000 a year—equivalent to a 20% slash in salary. Heathrow workers are set to go on strike next month. Much more concerted dialogue with management is clearly needed.

The GMB, Prospect and Unite have been clear in their ask of Government to put forward an aviation-specific package, and they will contribute to the thinking that goes into it. Furlough has been welcome, but the job support scheme, as expected, was criticised as not workable for the aviation sector and aviation jobs, which involve more complex 24/7 shift-work patterns. More support for transition where jobs are lost in aviation communities is vital.

Finally, on plans for the future and decarbonisation, we know that progress on decarbonisation has been painfully slow. We welcome the jet zero plans and the work going on in government on the aviation sector in that regard. More of that will be debated at the important conference, which the Minister is aware of, hosted by West London Business this Friday on “reimagining our global hub”, looking to the future of aviation and transportation, and our leadership in the UK and across the world.

What incentives are required to drive the innovation essential to delivering a zero-carbon aviation, and how can we look to the longer-term infrastructure development, including Southern rail access to Heathrow? Supply chains also matter. That is why we need an integrated sector-based plan now.