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Hundreds of Virgin Atlantic Cabin Crew Take the Airline to Court Over Pandemic-Era Redundancies That ‘Targeted Older Workers’

Hundreds of Virgin Atlantic Cabin Crew Take the Airline to Court Over Pandemic-Era Redundancies That ‘Targeted Older Workers’

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Hundreds of ex-Virgin Atlantic cabin crew are taking the airline to court over allegations the carrier deliberately targeted older workers during pandemic-era redundancies while retaining much younger and inexperienced cabin crew, some of whom were still in training, in a special ‘hold pool’ to be rehired.

The cases of 200 cabin crew will be heard in an employment tribunal in London in June, where lawyers will argue that Virgin Atlantic deliberately went after older and higher-paid employees.

At the height of the pandemic, Virgin Atlantic set about slashing its workforce and axed thousands of jobs as the airline struggled to stay afloat and secure additional funding from investors who wanted to see that the carrier was serious about cutting costs.

When global travel restrictions grounded the vast majority of flights, Virgin Atlantic initially laid off more than 3,000 employees before making an additional 1,150 workers unemployed in September 2020 – the announcement was made official on the same day the airline completed a £1.2 billion recapitalisation.

Many of the 200 cabin crew taking legal action against Virgin Atlantic were onboard managers who were told that they had lost their jobs and would not be invited into a special hold pool of redundant employees who would be rehired when market conditions improved.

At the same time, however, many younger cabin crew who were paid a lot less were invited into the hold pool and were quickly rehired as soon as flights started to takeoff again.

Some of the onboard managers who lost their jobs had 20 years of experience with the airline, and the tribunal will hear how they believe the selection criteria of who was to be made redundant was deliberately skewed to target them.

As well as placing some cabin crew in a holding pool, the airline also created its own furlough scheme that saw cabin crew paid up to 80 per cent of their wages even if there was no work for them to do.

Virgin Atlantic, however, elected not to use a government-funded furlough scheme that could have prevented many more cabin crew from being made redundant.

The airline intends to fight the lawsuit, arguing that its redundancy selection criteria used “unbiased, objective and lawful reasons”.

“Following the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation industry, Virgin Atlantic had to make very difficult decisions. Sadly, this included reducing the number of people employed across the business by 45%,” a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic told the Guardian.

“Our people are incredibly important to us, from those who have been with us since 1984, to our newest recruits. Throughout the redundancy process, we were committed to ensuring all our people were treated fairly and compassionately.

The statement continued: “To allow as many of our people to return as soon as demand allowed, we introduced a holding pool, which meant that more than 1,000 of our cabin crew returned at their previous level of seniority.”

“Where people had to unfortunately leave us, it was for unbiased, objective and lawful reasons, after full consultation with our recognised unions, elected colleague representatives and clear and open continued communication.”

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