The 'fire and rehire' practices at British Airways are immoral and should be illegal
Almost every BA employee has been threatened with redundancy, with one-third facing the axe, and the remainder rehired to contracts containing huge drops in salary and working conditions, says Gavin Newlands MP | Credit: PA Images
Under the cover of the coronavirus crisis, BA have threatened to fire tens of thousands of their staff and rehire them on worse pay and conditions. This cannot be acceptable in the UK in 2020
There should be no doubt that the aviation and aerospace industries face their biggest challenge since World War II.
No-one disputes that the impact of coronavirus will drive fundamental change to the sector for months and possibly years to come.
But the way to manage that change, for the benefit of all, is a collective effort by everyone with a stake in the future of a business - workers, management, unions, and the community.
At British Airways that sort of modernity is not on the agenda. Instead, under the cover of the coronavirus crisis, almost every BA employee has been threatened with redundancy, with one-third facing the axe, and the remainder rehired to contracts containing huge drops in salary and working conditions. Some of these salary cuts are as high as 70%.
This is immoral and should be illegal.
Along with colleagues on the Transport Select Committee, we heard from hundreds of BA workers and questioned both unions and management, with Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of BA’s parent group, IAG, representing the latter. It would be fair to say that his appearance did not go far in improving employee relations at the firm.
What is clear is that the life-changing experience of unemployment, with all its implications financially, socially, and economically, is being used as a stick to force long-standing employees into accepting far inferior salaries and conditions while doing exactly the same jobs. That can’t be an acceptable form of industrial relations in the year 2020.
The situations at BA and Rolls-Royce are individual – but they both reveal the malaise that seems to exist throughout industry in the UK
Many European countries have legislation preventing this kind of Dickensian industrial relations policy – ironically including Spain and Ireland, home of Iberian and Aer Lingus, both part of IAG. Meanwhile Rolls-Royce’s plant at Inchinnan in my constituency faces 700 job losses, over half the workforce at the plant.
Union proposals to increase working hours for less pay, and even accept no pay whatsoever in the short-term, have been rebuffed at every turn by management.
Instead the plans have been presented as a fait accompli, with no scope for debate and no room for workers’ input.
The situations at BA and Rolls-Royce are individual – but they both reveal the malaise that seems to exist throughout industry in the UK, where management are free to do virtually whatever they choose with zero regard for the consequence to communities, individuals, or the national economy.
Nowhere else in Europe has this Friedmanesque approach to strategic economic policy and assets. Germany’s consistent economic growth over the decades is based fundamentally on partnership between firms, unions, and the state, and honest discussion about when and where change is needed.
Despite the numerous predictions over the years – almost entirely from anti-EU campaigners – of the withering of Germany’s economy, they still outperform us across every measure and have a standard of living that would seem alien to most workers in this country.
So as a start in dragging our industrial policy into the 20th century (getting to the 21st century is the next goal), I lodged my Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill in the Commons last week. It would aim to prevent the kind of threat of fire and rehire that BA have issued tens of thousands of their staff around the UK – in my constituency and elsewhere.
As a presentation bill, I’m under no illusions about the likelihood of it becoming law, at least without Government support. But I hope it’s has at least drawn attention to the nefarious practices of BA and their ilk during this crisis. Throughout these difficult and stressful times, we have seen so many individuals, businesses and communities rise to the occasion and do the right thing. Maybe Willie Walsh and co should reflect on that when they speak with their workforce.
Gavin Newlands is SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North.