Parliamentary brief on aviation response to the Covid-19 crisis

28 Apr 2020

As well as dealing with individual employer-based negotiations, PCS is also looking to a broader strategy to protect our members in the aviation sector.  Below is reproduced the text of a parliamentary briefing that represents the first steps in this strategy, to make MPs, and Ministers and Shadow Ministers in particular, aware of the impact of the aviation industry’s covid-19 response on our members.

Transport Sector – Aviation update

Background

PCS represents 15,000 workers in the Transport Sector including in the Department for Transport (DfT), the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Our Transport Sector also covers the Aviation Sector. PCS represents staff in the National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and at airports across Britain including at Heathrow and Gatwick. This briefing covers the critical issues of cashflow, job security and the future state of the industry.

Aviation organisations are predicting a much longer downturn in air traffic and a significantly longer recovery period than in other sectors. Projections vary between 18 months to 4 years to get back to pre-Covid position.

Government Job Retention Scheme 

The Aviation Sector has seen a 90% fall in traffic since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. This has had a devastating impact on a sector worth £22bn to the UK economy annually and which provides 230,000 jobs. Employers in the sector are experiencing genuine cashflow problems as the main income streams in the industry from retail, car parking and air traffic have almost evaporated simultaneously. 

This has meant extensive use of the Government Job Retention Scheme by employers in the sector. Around 85% of PCS members are currently furloughed. Many are worried about what the future holds for them and if they will be a job to return to. There is an urgent need to address the issues posed by both the Coivd-19 pandemic and the wider problems facing the issue that have been brought to the fore by the crisis. 

Issues

Regrettably the cashflow crisis has prompted some employers to table proposals to introduce voluntary or compulsory redundancy schemes. PCS is resisting these, and we have pointed out that these types of short termist proposals are premature given the Job Retention Scheme. However, dialogue between the Government, unions and the sector is now urgently required and must focus on both a detailed post lockdown plan for the industry and the longer term issues now facing aviation. 

There is inevitably a sense among some workers that their employer is using the pandemic, and the virtual temporary total closure of the aviation sector, as a pretext to reshape and reduce its workforce. PCS has also raised concerns about the failure of some employers to work with us to address the genuine hardship that the loss of 20% of salary is creating for low paid workers in particular during the pandemic. The industry generally has been slow to grip the mental health impact for many staff as hardship and job insecurity. 

That said the undoubted uncertainty about the post lockdown plan is preventing employers from accurately forecasting passenger numbers into the immediate future.

Action Required

The Aviation Sector currently requires assistance to address the cashflow issue. PCS believes that this must be a priority for Government. But we also believe that in return the state - as well as aviation unions – must be directly engaged in constructing an agreement and plan on the future configuration and a national plan for the industry.

PCS believes that there is merit in bringing back into public ownership critically strategic parts of the sector such as NATS. We also believe that the Government should take a stake in companies like Heathrow, Gatwick and other regional airports in return for financial support packages.

PCS is asking MPs to support our call for the urgent formation of an Aviation Sector Group that brings together Government Ministers, the aviation unions and the private sector with a terms of reference to look at the strategic questions facing the industry in the short, medium and longer term and develop a strategic plan for the sector.   

PCS would look to the new transport unit to provide adequate national forecasting which organisations and their staff can work by. This would coordinate the efforts of the sector to sustain itself as well as ensuring that any internal organisations are necessary and proportionate.

PCS calls on Parliament to devise a set of assurances to sectors worst hit by Covid-19. Notably, we would like to see an extension of the JRS to aviation workers, to secure their jobs long-term and ensure they are trained and ready to rebuild post-Covid.

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