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Union says British aviation ‘on its knees’ as it demands more help

written by Isabella Richards | June 8, 2021
Aerial photo of Terminal 3 at London Heathrow airport (LHR) in the United Kingdom.

One of the UK’s largest aviation unions has said the industry is “on its knees” and needs further government financial help to survive.

GMB congress met early this week to discuss what the aviation sector needs in order to survive the COVID-19 aftermath, and has compiled a set of demands calling for action as part of its ongoing ‘Save our airports’ campaign.

Gary Pearce, the London region senior officer, said GMB is working hard to negotiate alternatives to job losses for its employees, but requires further government support.

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“The pandemic has had a disastrous financial impact on airports and the companies that depend on air travel and transportation,” Pearce said. “These employers cannot continue without help from the government.”

According to the press release, the demands are for the government to:

  • Recognise the vital role aviation workers continue to play in ensuring food and medical supplies still enter the country;
  • Extend the 80 per cent furlough scheme for 12 months for workers in the aviation industry but with the possibility to ‘taper’ where necessary;
  • Ensure that any state aid comes with guarantees to protect jobs before shareholders and with environmental safeguards to create a greener industry;
  • State aid discussions should not take place behind closed doors. Trade unions must be involved in those negotiations and powerful airline companies should not be at the front of the queue (the supply chain and regional airports are just as important);
  • Stop putting further restrictions on air travel and publicly support the air and tourism sector; and
  • Ensure that all trade unions are part of any sector recovery talks to ensure that front line transport workers’ voices are brought to the fore.

Heathrow Airport recorded a £2 billion annual loss at the end of 2020, and the UK suffered an overall loss of £3.5 billion from tourism and travel, according to a York Aviation report.

Currently, the UK government offers the furlough scheme to support workers who have suffered redundancies or permanent job loss.

It is intended to cover up to 80 per cent of an employee’s salary for the hours they are unable to work, resulting in a maximum sum of £2,500 monthly. The scheme is set to halt in September.

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However, as the UK begins to resume to normal life as restrictions ease, the furlough scheme will slowly contribute less to employees, as employers will begin to pay more.

The UK will eventually bounce back to pre-pandemic life and Pearce believes support from the government is more critical than ever.

“It is vital that those employed in the aviation sector and supply chain are ready and waiting with the skills and experience required to get the UK flying again. A sector-specific support package made available now can ensure this materialises,” he said.

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