Alex Cruz, the chief executive of embattled flag carrier British Airways has lashed out at lawmakers and unions after the airline was branded a “national disgrace by an influential Parliamentary select committee on Saturday morning. The airline faces mounting criticism over its proposals to fire 12,000 employees and drastically reduce the terms and conditions of those who survive the mass lay-offs but Cruz says the carrier is in a “fight to survive”.
In an opinion piece published by This is Money, the head of BA said none of the many crises the airline has faced in the past came close to what the COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking upon the aviation industry. Cruz hit out at a 14-day mandatory quarantine recently introduced by the British government, saying it had dealt its restart plans a “hammer blow”.
“It is irrational to stop people travelling from countries with a lower risk of infection into the UK and to treat those that do come more harshly, under criminal law, than people who actually have Covid-19,” Cruz said on Saturday night. British Airways has joined forces with easyJet and Ryanair to mount a legal challenge against the quarantine rules.
Confronting criticism that the airline is using the Corona crisis as an opportunity to slash the terms and conditions of relatively well-paid employees, Cruz defended BA’s approach saying it was attempting to consult with workers in an “honest, transparent and meaningful way”.
“Like other companies facing job losses, I do not want to deprive my people of their livelihoods. It is painful to contemplate the scale of the change we need to make because I know we have the best people in the business – the most kind, caring and compassionate people who deliver the best British service,” Cruz commented.
He took a swipe at unions, who have so far refused to meet with airline bosses over what they see as “fire and rehire” plans that would decimate workers terms. Cruz confirmed that the airline is now exploring the possibility of offering voluntary redundancy in an attempt break the deadlock – nearly 45 days after the airline said it couldn’t afford payouts over legal minimums.
Apparently troubled by suggestions that lawmakers could strip British Airways of valuable takeoff slots Cruz warned “fleet-of-foot overseas competitors will be waiting in the wings to take the landing slots at Heathrow”. He continued: “British Airways has no absolute right to exist. We are in a fight to survive.”
Read the full opinion piece below:
“British Airways has a proud history of connecting Britain with the world and the world with Britain.
We’ve been doing it for more than a century and in that time we have been through major crises – but not one of those crises has come close to where we find ourselves now.
You only have to look up to see that flying has, to all intents and purposes, stopped.
It stopped more than two months ago and the stats speak for themselves.
In May this year, we flew 485 passenger flights. Last year, on the first day of May, we had flown that number of flights by lunchtime.
We had hoped for a return to some additional flying in July so we could begin to get back on track and give people the hope of a holiday after such terrible times.
But the Government’s decision to introduce 14-day quarantine for visitors arriving into the UK, without consultation or scientific evidence, has dealt our restart plans a hammer blow.
It is irrational to stop people travelling from countries with a lower risk of infection into the UK and to treat those that do come more harshly, under criminal law, than people who actually have Covid-19.
British Airways has been a well-run, prudent business for many years. We have created good employment for thousands of people, opened new routes, paid billions in taxes to the Exchequer, paid regularly into the company’s defined benefit pension scheme and paid dividends to those who have chosen to invest in us.
But if you were to listen to some of our MPs, or certain trade unions, these achievements are worthless and even derided. Their attacks on British Airways are both partial and parochial. In conducting its recent review, the Transport Select Committee made clear its report would be ‘fuelled by the kind and impassioned messages’ it received, rather than the facts.
But the facts are clear. Economists at IATA predict international air travel won’t return to the levels of 2019 until at least 2023.
At BA, 98.2 per cent of our business is international. We know we will emerge from the Covid-19 crisis as a much smaller airline. We will have fewer customers and fly to fewer routes for years to come.
Our business will be laden with hundreds of millions of pounds in new debt, much of which must be repaid over a short term, so any revenues we make when we return to flying will be swallowed up by loan repayments.
Meanwhile, fleet-of-foot overseas competitors will be waiting in the wings to take the landing slots at Heathrow that our MPs have suggested BA does not deserve. British Airways has no absolute right to exist. We are in a fight to survive and, like our peers, we must consult in an honest, transparent and meaningful way on proposals to reduce the size of our workforce.
To suggest we are focused on anything but our immediate survival in the short term, plus a sustainable and competitive re-emergence for the longer term, is not true.
Unite and GMB have said publicly they will only meet us if we withdraw the Section 188 notices that set out our redundancy proposals.
For the record, if a UK company proposes redundancies it must follow the law, inform the unions that jobs are at risk and provide any and all information to make the consultation meaningful.
Our Section 188 notices are not ‘notice of dismissals’. Rather they outline every item that could possibly be consulted on. And both Unite and GMB have form on this point. They have sued several companies for not correctly filing Section 188 notices when considering redundancies.
Indeed, BA was sued by Unite and the GMB in 2011 when they argued we had not provided a Section 188 letter before entering into discussions with them. This claim was settled.
So that is why we will not step back from our legal obligations on consultation to our employees.
We are consulting, and this week, despite Unite and GMB failing to attend over 250 meetings and counting, we announced we are exploring and will consult upon options for voluntary redundancy for our colleagues, within the limits of our cash-constrained position.
Like other companies facing job losses, I do not want to deprive my people of their livelihoods. It is painful to contemplate the scale of the change we need to make because I know we have the best people in the business – the most kind, caring and compassionate people who deliver the best British service.
I will do everything in my power to ensure that British Airways can survive and sustain the maximum number of jobs in line with the new reality of a changed airline industry and a severely weakened global economy.
This is a challenge not of our making, nor one we could ever have conceived.
We will continue to show up for union meetings and hope they stop scaremongering and attacking our brand and start doing what their members pay them for, namely representing them as they deserve.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.