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Aviation Sector Employment: Covid-19

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 3 December 2020

What steps he has taken to support the aviation sector to maintain employment levels during the covid-19 pandemic. (909713)

What steps he has taken to support the aviation sector to maintain employment levels during the covid-19 pandemic. (909720)

What steps he has taken to support the aviation sector to maintain employment levels during the covid-19 pandemic. (909730)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on employment protections for people working in the aviation industry during the covid-19 outbreak. (909747)

The Government’s comprehensive support package includes the coronavirus job retention scheme, which will now run until the end of March 2021.

Many hundreds of my constituents are reliant on jobs related to the aviation sector, so the Government’s financial support for businesses in this industry has been welcome. However, there are valid concerns surrounding the conditionality of that support, particularly among workers at Rolls-Royce, with their jobs at risk of being offshored. Will the Minister work to ensure that any financial support is translated into the protection of jobs here in the UK?

The Government, of course, are acutely aware of the importance of the highly skilled, dedicated employees in aerospace in the hon. Lady’s constituency and across the UK. We are very much working to ensure that as many jobs as possible can be protected and, particularly through the release of the global travel taskforce, we are looking to see that demand increases and we get people flying as soon as is safely possible. It is in that way that we will most protect the industry, which means so much to all of us.

This year, I have watched close friends and constituents lose their jobs as the aviation industry and its supply chain have collapsed, yet it took the Government until October to launch a taskforce. There is still no sector-specific support deal, and the Secretary of State sat silent while BA engaged in fire and rehire tactics, and is silent now as Heathrow is doing exactly the same. When are the Government going to start taking a real stand to save people’s jobs?

In announcing the global travel taskforce and working at pace to deliver this complicated bit of policy, going live on 15 December, the Government have acted extremely fast in ensuring that we introduce a world-leading test and release system, which is what will support our aviation industry going forward.

British Airways is a flagship airline; it is recognised across the world for its quality mark, and that is largely down to the professionalism of its staff, many of whom live in my Vauxhall constituency. Yet its actions during this pandemic, including firing and rehiring so many staff on reduced wages and incredibly bad terms, have been utterly disgraceful. Why have the Government not stepped in, done a sectoral deal and protected these jobs? What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that there are no more job losses in the aviation sector?

I pay tribute to the dedicated employees in the hon. Lady’s constituency who work in the airline industry and the airports industry. Any redundancy that happens is a commercial decision, but none the less one that we regret. I would encourage all employers to engage with their employees sensitively and to sit down and talk to the unions in order to come to compromises wherever possible. The Government’s action has involved a great deal of cross-economy support, and the aviation sector itself will have received between £2.5 billion and £3 billion of support from the coronavirus job retention scheme and the covid corporate financing facility by the end of March 2021.

The aviation sector, particularly the airline industry, is a major employer in my constituency, and there has been concern over employment practices. I recently supported the private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), but in a Westminster Hall debate the Minister said that the absence of strict regulations about fire and rehire provided necessary flexibility. In those circumstances, what are the Government proposing to bring forward to protect workers in the aviation industries from the possibility of fire and rehire?

As I say, these are matters that are profoundly regretted by the Government, but they remain commercial matters. We engage closely with all sector representatives, including the unions, to find a way forward if at all possible.

It is 50 years since my predecessor, Alf Morris, introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. It is why I came into politics. The Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), mentioned it, as it is World Disability Day today.

Minister, the global travel taskforce has hardly met at all and nobody in the aviation industry has recommended the test-to-release scheme, which he announced this week. The industry is shedding jobs at a rate of knots. The furlough announcement was too late for too many in the aviation industry—the jobs were already gone. We have to stop lurching from one announcement to the next. Will the Minister commit to setting a critical path, so we can restore confidence in our world-class aviation industry?

I am slightly confused about the hon. Gentleman’s reference, because the global travel taskforce most certainly has met. I think there is an element of confusion there. There has been extensive engagement in workshops with the industry. That has led to the release of a substantial, detailed report with 14 recommendations, of which the test-to-release scheme is only one. That work continues, as he rightly urges. I agree with him that it absolutely should continue to bring on many of the other schemes we have in the GTT. That work very much continues.