Aviation Industry — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Worker Exploitation: Leicester Textile Industry – in Westminster Hall at 3:16 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 3:16 pm, 18th November 2020

I thank Chris Grayling for securing a debate on such an important issue. It is an honour to follow Saqib Bhatti.

In March, the Government promised an aviation plan. We have had a change of minister, but eight months later—with redundancies rising and the widespread use of abhorrent employment practices—we are still waiting for the plan. I ask the Minister this: when will the plan be published? Among all the uncertainty, the aviation industry has adopted some absolutely abhorrent employment practices which I and many others believe should be banned in the UK, namely “fire and rehire”.

As a member of the Transport Select Committee, I have had the opportunity—as have other colleagues here today—to question Mr Álex Cruz, who was chief executive of British Airways until recently. The initial pandemic response of British Airways was to threaten to fire all of its 42,000 staff and rehire about 30,000 of them on permanently reduced terms. The inferior terms and conditions left some workers facing huge wage cuts of between 55% and 75%. In his evidence, Mr Cruz reassured the Transport Select Committee that an agreement had been reached with the unions, and that there would be no need to issue new contracts. Frankly, I believe Mr Cruz misled the Committee, because 850 British Airways cargo workers forced to sign new contracts or be fired have received pay cuts of 25%. British Airways have threatened to outsource that part of their business, while attempting to renegotiate and weaken the collective bargaining agreement with Unite. In response to that, those staff will start balloting for strike action tomorrow, I believe, and I stand with them in solidarity as a member of Unite the union against the imposition of drastic cuts to their wages and living standards.

I ask the Minister, who previously served as a colleague on the Transport Select Committee chaired by his Conservative colleague and my friend Huw Merriman this: does he agree that the Government should seek to minimise job losses in aviation while protecting pay and employment rights? I sympathise with the aviation industry: it has been hit hardest by covid and has been left in uncertainty. Loyal and skilled staff should not, however, pay the price for Government failure and the pandemic, and the disgraceful practice of “fire and rehire” must be banned.