Boris Johnson Backs Away From Punishing British Airways Over Jobs

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed off from intervening in British Airways plans to cut pay and modify contracts for remaining staff after dismissing thousands of others.

“British Airways and a number of other companies are in severe difficulties at the moment,” Johnson told lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday. “We cannot simply with a magic wand ensure that every single job that was being done before the crisis is retained after the crisis.”

Johnson was responding to a question from Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer, who asked whether the premier would tell British Airways that its actions would have consequences for its slew of lucrative airport landing slots.

British Airways, a unit of IAG SA, met with criticism after saying it planned to eliminate 12,000 jobs, or about 30% of the total, while tapping a state furlough program aimed at safeguarding employment.

The House of Commons Transport Committee accused the airline of using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to cut the payroll, while Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst said she might ask the Civil Aviation Authority to confiscate BA slots, before cautioning that it wouldn’t be possible under the current system.

Starmer said Johnson himself had emailed British Airways staff making clear firms should not be using furlough money to keep people on their books and then remove them.

He added that with the contract changes British Airways is seeking to force through the rehiring of 30,000 workers “on worse terms and conditions.” The company’s proposed deal for flight attendants would maintain only 80% of salaries, while limiting job cuts.

British Airways said in an emailed statement that politicians were being swayed by opposition from the Unite and GMB unions, which it urged to join with pilot association Balpa in consulting on the proposals. The carrier has rowed back on plans to dismiss and rehire all of its 4,300 cockpit crew.

“It is disappointing for a company taking action to save as many jobs as possible to be singled out in this way,” BA said.

IAG Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh last month dismissed the attacks, saying British Airways was “fighting for its survival.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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