A report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has stated the grounding of air travel during the coronavirus pandemic could prompt a jobs crisis in British aviation on the scale of the country’s coal mining industry’s collapse during the 1980s.
The NEF’s report said at least 70,000 jobs in the wider aviation industry including engineering, catering and duty free shopping were at risk before the end of summer. This means thousands of workers in the industry may have to retrain in other areas of the economy, it said.
The report was compiled in collaboration with the TUC, aviation unions and the climate action charity Possible, with the study warning this figure would match the job losses in the coal industry in 1980-81 in the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s newly elected Tory government.
“We cannot consign these workers to the despair of unemployment,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.
“Aviation needs immediate support – and not just to protect the incomes of billionaire airline owners. Government must act now to protect workers’ jobs and livelihoods, to support the longer-term viability of the sector and to facilitate a just transition to lower-carbon operations.”
The warning on aviation jobs comes at a crucial time for airlines and companies that have furloughed workers in the UK. The transition away from the furlough scheme, which is covering the wage bill of almost 9 million workers, is expected to trigger a wave of redundancies in the coming weeks, as the government gradually reduces the support available from August until the scheme closes at the end of October.
Firms will have to decide whether they can afford to keep staff on furlough when they have to start contributing towards the cost of the government scheme or choose to make workers redundant.
Airlines have been among the biggest beneficiaries of government support, with British Airways, Ryanair and EasyJet placing more than 25,000 staff on furlough between them and borrowing £1.5 billion using cheap, government-backed loans from the Bank of England. However, against a backdrop of new quarantine restrictions, reduced passenger demand due to the health risks from COVID-19, and with fewer planned journeys expected in future, the airlines still plan to make thousands of job cuts this year.