British Airways employees agree to furlough deal amid coronavirus pandemic

Members of the Unite union recognised the “seriousness of the situation facing the aviation sector”. 

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British Airways employees have voted overwhelmingly to accept a deal to furlough the airline’s  workers and preserve employment, a union has confirmed.

Unite said that 99 per cent of its members at the airline had backed the arrangement, which will affect crew, cabin and ground staff, as the vast majority of the flights to and from the UK are suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.

As a clear indicator of the severity of the crisis facing the aviation industry, London Heathrow – the country’s largest airport – has closed down one of its two runways.

The government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, which launched last month, allows companies to place employees on temporary leave rather than firing them, and subsidises up to 80 per cent of their wages to a maximum monthly value of £2,500.

Anyone working full-time, or on a PAYE basis, before 28 February, is eligible for furlough pay, including people on zero-hour contracts. Unfortunately, however, the scheme does not extend to people that might have changed jobs between the end of February and the government announcement.  

British Airways has agreed to a modified version of the government’s scheme, with workers paid 80 per cent of their salaries, but with no cap on earnings.

Unite said workers will be able to divert their pension contributions (between 9 and 18 per cent) into their pay for a short period of time and that there will be no unpaid temporary lay-offs and no redundancies.

Howard Beckett, the assistant general secretary at Unite, said that members at the airline recognised the “seriousness of the situation facing the aviation sector” and have therefore accepted the deal negotiated by their union. He added: “Unite will continue to work on ensuring that members who are still flying remain fully protected.”

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman

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