Bail out aviation sector – but make it conditional on climate plan, says Labour

Elliot Chappell

Labour has called on the government to put in place support packages for the aviation sector – but make any bailouts conditional on environmental commitments and the protection of jobs.

The party has said that the UK must learn from international examples to stimulate the transition to a green economy, and make clear that support will only be given to companies with a climate plan consistent with the Paris agreement.

Labour highlighted that 1.6 million jobs in the country depend on the aviation sector, and said that the government must take action now to “protect against short-term unemployment”. It has demanded the following conditions:

  1. “Jobs are protected. Staff salaries are protected with a clear commitment to workers’ rights;
  2. “There is a clear commitment to tackling climate change and for the industry to use cleaner fuels and other cutting-edge low or zero emission technologies;
  3. “Any company in receipt of money must ensure their tax base is in the UK;
  4. “No dividends should be paid until the company is proven to be commercially viable, as we have seen in other countries;
  5. “A commitment to pay UK based suppliers as a priority; and
  6. “All operators fully comply, without delay, with all consumer right regulations – particularly with regards to giving full refunds and that they offer customers the opportunity choose the greenest flight option.”

Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon said: “The aviation industry is critical to the UK and we must ensure it has the best possible chance to survive and contribute towards our economic recovery.

“We must transform our economy to tackle the climate emergency, that includes protecting jobs now so they can be re-skilled in the future.

“At such a critical time for the country, businesses should be doing all they can to protect jobs, as well as protecting the environment as we plan for the future.”

Ryanair recently announced a 15% cut to its 20,000 strong workforce at the start of this month, while Virgin Atlantic has revealed planned redundancies for a third of its workforce.

McMahon added: “The government must act now to ensure a robust plan is in place to protect jobs in the sector and set clear commitments to help tackle the climate emergency.”

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has not been restricted to airlines in the sector, with the power systems manufacturer Rolls-Royce said to be considering as many as 8,000 redundancies.

GMB national officer Nadine Houghton said the trade union “wholeheartedly supports Labour’s aviation strategy”, adding that airlines are behaving “in a deeply opportunistic and cynical way by using the current crisis to rip up pay and conditions”.

Commenting on Labour’s announcement, Unite national officer Oliver Richardson said: “We welcome the proposals which are very much in line with those put forward by Unite, and endorsed by our aviation representatives and members.

“Most importantly the package of support outlined is both socially responsible and for the whole sector. It also ensures that not only will the UK remain at the forefront of global aviation, but that it will become a leader in tackling climate change in the industry.”

Unite set out a four-point plan for the government to ensure that the aviation industry “survives” the Covid-19 pandemic in March, warning that the UK risked losing tens of thousands of jobs.

Various governments across Europe have agreed more than €11bn in financial aid for airlines so far, including a £600m loan from the UK Treasury to support EasyJet.

Air France recently received €7bn in support from the French government, conditional on a 50% reduction in carbon emissions on domestic flights by 2024 and investment in more fuel-efficient planes.

The Austrian Prime Minister and vice-chancellor have said that one of their airlines, Lufthansa’s Austrian Airways, will not receive any support without job protections and green commitments.

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