Sean Doyle, the chief executive of British Airways reassured thousands of furloughed employees on Monday that they would not be made redundant when the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) comes to an end in the next few days.
Trade unions and the airline industry had been lobbying Chancellor Rishi Sunak for a sector-specific extension to the generous taxpayer-funded furlough scheme which has now been in place for over 18-months, far longer than Sunak ever intended.
The government has rejected calls to keep the CJRS running and has instead rolled back some pandemic travel restrictions in an effort to kick start the travel industry. Airlines and the wider travel sector have also welcomed President Biden’s decision to lift the U.S. travel ban from November.
Despite the positive changes to travel rules, the industry is expecting a tough winter, with COVID-19 cases anticipated to rise sharply in the coming months and unwelcome surprises like new variants an ever-present threat. British Airways continues to have a surplus of thousands of workers.
But Doyle has committed to keeping all of BA’s current workers employed and paying their basic pay, the chief executive announced in an internal memo.
Doyle took over the role of CEO from Alex Cruz who presided over attempts to make thousands of staff redundant and make sweeping changes to the pay, terms and conditions of long-serving employees at the start of the pandemic.
Announcing his intention to keep paying workers, Doyle said: “Admittedly, this is a hefty cost to the business when so little revenue is coming in, but we want to do the right thing by you – and that’s what we are going to do.”
“I’ll be honest with you. Your Management Committee thought long and hard about this. We are focused sharply on managing our costs, and the increase in our cost base when the furlough scheme ends will be steep.”
“We explored lots of things that would be right for our business, and would also help secure jobs, but which would mean some tough decisions for colleagues and possibly some difficult sacrifices, too.”
“Instead, we need to begin the slow journey to recovery, as one BA family, back at work and rebuilding our operation.”
British Airways had been considering several options to cover the loss of support from the CJRS including making staff redundant or mandating unpaid leave for thousands of workers.
The airline will, however, push a number of voluntary measures including the option for extended periods of unpaid leave and part-time working. Cabin crew will also be offered roles in BA’s customer call centres.
Doyle also said on Monday that the airline would reopen its sprawling Waterside head office near Heathrow Airport. The airline had been working with a specialist property company to assess the possibility of selling the 114,000 square metre office space due to the rise in home working.
The site has been largely abandoned since March 2020 when the pandemic struck and, like many companies, British Airways ordered office-based staff to work from home. In an internal memo, the airline said it was surprised at how well staffers had adapted to the ‘new normal’.
Doyle said Waterside was being reopened on a “limited basis” as the airline experimented with hybrid working models.
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.