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AIRLINE Virgin Atlantic is asking 8,500 staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave to reduce costs while it requests a taxpayer-funded bailout due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The appeal came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the government’s most stringent measures yet, in a desperate bid to prevent all non-essential contact and contain the spread of the virus in Britain.
The aviation industry is facing a crisis, with Easyjet, Ryanair and British Airways joining Virgin in reducing services amid travel restrictions and a huge drop in demand.
Virgin, which has grounded 85 per cent of its flights, has joined other airlines in asking for between £5 billion and £7.5bn from the government to mitigate the impact of the virus.
Virgin founder Richard Branson has a net worth of £4bn. The cost of paying the 8,500 workers has been estimated at £34 million over eight weeks.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald was among those telling the billionaire to cover the cost to Virgin Atlantic staff of the proposed eight weeks’ without pay.
He tweeted yesterday: “It is a disgrace for a company owned by a billionaire to ask its employees to live without wages for two months in the middle of a crisis.
“Richard Branson can put his hand in his own pocket if needs be.”
Unions have called on the government to provide financial support to protect jobs and wages, with Unite warning that tens of thousands of jobs in the industry could be lost.
The union’s general secretary Len McCluskey wants to meet Mr Johnson to discuss demands from the industry for an emergency summit.
The union has devised a four-point plan for the government to adopt to ensure the industry’s survival, including making contributions to workers’ pay, an extension of loans to airlines and airports and a delay in the payment of airline taxes.
In a letter to the PM, Mr McCluskey warned that an “unprecedented crisis is imminent.”
He said: “The industry has been rocked by the onset of Covid-19, with flight cancellations and the grounding of flights severely impacting on airports and the wider supply chains.
“If you do not take urgent action to support the aviation industry in the UK, there is absolute certainty that tens of thousands of jobs will be put at risk and the industry will be unable to resume effectively once this health crisis has passed.
“It is essential that the government listens to and works with unions, airlines, airports and other key stakeholders in aviation to ensure that we take a managed approach throughout this period of uncertainty and provide immediate support for the whole sector, in order to help it survive this pandemic.
“We urge you to release government funding immediately so the industry and the jobs within it can survive what will effectively be a period of dormancy during the next difficult period.
“You, Prime Minister, have a choice to either support it and all those that depend on it through this period or risk it facing serious problems that it may be unable to overcome.”
General union GMB wants employers and the government to protect jobs and wages at Heathrow airport.
Perry Phillips, GMB regional organiser for aviation at Heathrow, said: “With the aviation industry hanging in the balance, GMB is asking the government to intervene and provide financial aid along with a firm guarantee that jobs and wages are protected.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that there are “lots of different options” to help the aviation industry through the crisis.
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