Over 100 MPs have joined forces to press the chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) for the aviation sector until March 2021.
Government assistance needed
The MPs have signed a letter, coordinated by Unite and published today, which urges the chancellor to help stop the crisis engulfing the sector and also to recognise the wider economic benefits of keeping workers active within the sector, not unemployed and collecting benefits.
The aviation industry has been among the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with, according to Unite, 60,000 jobs in the sector (about the population of Tunbridge Wells) hanging in the balance.
Ongoing jobs cull
In recent weeks, easyJet has cut its UK workforce by roughly a third, including closing three of its bases and the future of many regional airports looks bleak, while this week as Gatwick airport announced that it was making one in four, 600 workers, redundant.
With support building and more signatories coming in, the union says that for the government 'doing nothing should not be an option'. The letter to the chancellor, who promised back in March to provide assistance to the under-siege sector, calls on him to help prevent massive loss of jobs and skills by urgently announcing that the JRS would continue for UK aviation.
High profile supporters
Notable signatories include Henry Smith the Conservative MP for Crawley (which covers Gatwick Airport), Labour’s transport spokesperson Jim McMahon, the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner and a total of 12 members of the shadow cabinet.
Other prominent signatories including Gavin Newlands of the Scottish National Party, who is proposing legislation to prevent the controversial 'fire and rehire' practices by companies like British Airways, and senior members of the Democratic Unionist Party including Jeffrey Donaldson. Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine and Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, have also signed the letter.
The letter acknowledges that the industry will not be in a position to make a recovery until at least 2021 and says: “Furloughing workers and smoothing a possible unemployment spike is potentially more economically viable and certainly more sustainable than government expenditure on benefits.
"Importantly it would also ensure that the skills and the infrastructure that the industry requires to return to capacity are retained.”
Unite Assistant General Secretary, Diana Holland, said: “The cross-party support of over 100 MPs all calling for an extension of the Job Retention Scheme for the aviation sector is welcomed, and more political support is coming in every day.
“This is a clear message to the chancellor that government action to protect people working in aviation is vital. Doing nothing should not be an option for the government.
“Thousands of people, jobs and businesses depend on the aviation sector.
“Aviation will take time to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. It makes economic sense for the government to extend the JRS to protect jobs, as the sector rebuilds rather than thousands of professional skilled workers losing their jobs and being forced to claim benefits.”
Principal aviation union
Unite represents people working in airlines, airports and throughout the aviation supply chain.
Together with the TUC and all aviation unions, Unite is calling for the government to take on the economic and fiscal measures needed to support the sector, including:
- The extension of, and modifications to, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to protect employment in the aviation sector
- Suspension of air passenger duty
- Public service obligation routes to ensure regional connectivity
- Business rate relief for airports (as in Scotland and Northern Ireland)
- Extending the period of repayment of loans to aviation companies beyond the current two-year maximum.
Blueprint for aviation
The full list of measures can be found on Unite’s urgent summer update to its ‘Flying into the Future’ blueprint, which was first published in May in response to the coronavirus crisis.