Today members of the Unite Union attended my office to protest about the redundancies being negotiated by British Airways (BA).
Businesses in the aviation and travel sectors have been significantly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. My own constituency of Heywood and Middleton, with its close connections to Manchester Airport is no exception. I am committed to working with my colleagues in Westminster in the best interests of all industry workers and Heywood and Middleton.
At the heart of this issue are the people who work in all sectors of the aviation and airline industry. Not just flight staff and ground stall for airlines but the thousands of other people who work in airports or connected industries.
I sympathise with anyone who is facing redundancy during the pandemic. It is never an easy process to go through, and it is important that those who have been made redundant are aware of their rights. I have made it very clear that I believe that airlines such as BA should act responsibly and morally in negotiations, respecting employees who in some cases have given a lifetime of service to the industry.
I stand with all staff in the aviation and travel sector in their efforts to find a solution that works for everyone. That is why I have been, and will continue to take part in cross-party discussions to find a solution that safeguards all workers.
I am disappointed that union-led campaigns have resorted to bullish tactics that could ultimately threaten thousands of jobs. Not just at London airports, but here in Heywood and Middleton where local people depend on the employment that Manchester airport provides along with the connectivity that is a vital for commuters and businesses here.
The Transport committee in the House of Commons has published a report on this matter and I have asked my ministerial colleagues to consider its report carefully.
I am aware of a Private Members’ Bill introduced by Gavin Newlands MP which seeks to prevent BA and other companies from adopting “fire and re-hire” tactics. The Bill is expecting its Second Reading in September. Although I appreciate public strength of feeling, I do not support the Bill, as ultimately terms and conditions of employment are a matter for employers and employees. Companies should behave responsibly but there is already recourse for those who feel they have been treated unfairly. If an employee feels they have been dismissed unfairly, they should consider taking their case to an employment tribunal.
It is also important to be clear that calls from Unison to block flight slots in an attempt to force BA’s hand in negotiations is a dangerous strategy which could actually threaten more local jobs than it seeks to safeguard. I want to reassure constituents that I have nonetheless spoken to Ministerial colleagues to make sure they are aware of the concerns of BA employees.
During this difficult time, it is only right that employers should act responsibly and therefore only use the Job Retention Scheme to protect jobs. I understand that the Government is urging employers not to use the Job Retention Scheme to make someone redundant on less favourable terms than they would otherwise have received, and I reiterate my view that this is not an acceptable way for any business to behave.
Throughout this crisis, both the Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been in open dialogue with UK airlines, including BA. These have been through structured and bilateral discussions, at Ministerial and official levels and this is a matter which I will continue to monitor very closely.