Latest update on Aviation group Covid-19 discussions with employers

28 May 2020

The aviation group executive committee met on 26th May to provide updates from discussions with the individual employers, share information and develop our strategy to protect members.

The common theme that emerged was that the current furlough scheme which has provided a significant degree of protection, is approaching its end and there are signs that the next developments will be much harsher and require a more robust response.  It was also clear that the real focus for our efforts must be threefold. 

  • Firstly, we must reject short termist proposals from employers that diminish capacity and the ability of the industry to rapidly adopt a recovery plan at the right time. 
  • Secondly, we must oppose further rounds of voluntary or compulsory job cuts and that an industry wide strategy – involving Government, employers and the unions must be drawn up. Our members must be fully engaged in developing and campaigning for their jobs and futures. 
  • Finally, the aviation sector must be treated as a unique sector by Government and its future cannot be left to managers and employers if we are to safeguard it.

At both Heathrow and Gatwick airports, the time frame for the recovery of normal operations is receding, even more so with the government’s edict regarding the 14-day quarantine of incoming passengers.  As a result, further rounds of redundancies sought by the employer is becoming ever more likely.  

With most who would volunteer already accounted for, the possibility of a struggle over compulsory redundancy is imminent.  We already have reports of mistreatment of individuals who are being pressurised into volunteering for redundancy. This must stop. Members should report any attempt by their employer to force them into taking redundancy to the union immediately. But, we also needto be prepared for this to get worse, and to oppose it, as employers are driven to more extreme measures to cut jobs.  Attacks on hard-won terms and conditions are also emerging, including basic worker rights such as paid breaks.  We will be working in solidarity with other unions to see off the threat of compulsory redundancy and other attacks.

Meanwhile, the working together relationship within NATS has broken down after a unilateral decision was made to serve notice on the Redeployment & Redundancy Agreement (RRA). PCS feel this is an opportunistic decision made without any discussions with the Trade Unions. This decision has effectively destroyed all cost saving initiatives that PCS were engaged in by removing the safety net our members were provided with the RRA, this will have an impact on the business. Despite our calls for engagement on the unforeseen consequences NATS continued their plan and served notice on the 19th of May. PCS are actively engaging their members on this subject and along with our Prospect colleagues will follow this up when we are able.  

Given the particularly harsh impact on aviation, all the trade unions who have members in the industry have - under the auspices of the TUC - agreed that a common approach aimed at the government is the best way of protecting jobs.  We need to continue discussions with employers, but the fragmented nature of the industry means we have to adopt a more industry-wide approach, and we are happy to report that all constituent unions are bought into that.

 A report has been commissioned which will be launched in the next few weeks, on the state of the industry and the future for workers.  But the basic demands that emerge from that report are already being articulated to ministers and in the industry.  We will report in more detail on those demands when they are officially released, but the basic tenets will be:

  • An extension to the furlough scheme for workers in the aviation industry as part of a package of special transition measures.
  • Recognise that even a recovered industry will not be as it was before, and that the requirement for the jobs previously required may reduce. Where reductions are necessary and agreed by government, unions and employers a process of ‘just transition’ must be adopted with every PCS members guaranteed training and support to find another job. 
  • Ensure that protections are in place for workers to return to their jobs as the recovery begins, that the opportunity for alternative work is provided, and that job loss is restricted to a minimum well below that envisaged by the employers.
  • The government to take a stake, temporary or permanent, in the industry and to oversee its recovery - with NATS likely to be first in line.

Above all, the fundamental principle is that no one who wants to work should lose their job.  

No doubt the industry will strongly oppose this plan, but we are absolutely convinced that the long term future for staff, and for the industry itself, lies along this path, and not in chasing short term profits at the expense of our members jobs.  

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