Yesterday the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson faced questions from the Commons Liaison Committee regarding the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). There was particular reference to the aviation sector which is facing massive job losses and the failure of specific operators to use the scheme to retain valuable and skilled members of its workforce.
The key phrase from the PM was as follows – ‘people should not be using furlough cynically to keep people on their books and then get rid of them. We want people back in jobs, we want this country back on its feet, that’s the whole point of the furlough scheme’.
This is the exact position that the IPA has taken since the introduction of the CJRS. This view is supported by wording of the Guidance which states – ‘The scheme is designed to help employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) to retain their employees and protect the UK economy’. The Guidance additionally states – ‘Grants cannot be used to substitute redundancy payments’. Essentially, this not a scheme that is intended to facilitate redundancies.
HMRC are very clear – fraudulent claims will be investigated. Whilst HMRC will undoubtedly seek to recover fraudulent payments from employers, this recourse relies on the company still being in existence at the time HMRC starts investigating, which is in no way certain in the current climate.
The PM’s comments yesterday, and what is clearly the intention of the CJRS are all well and good, but what is lacking for the aviation sector is a clear way forward. We have spoken to several pilots who believe that the sector itself will ultimately have to pave the way for securing the success of UK aviation as we come out the other side if the COVID19 pandemic.
The reality is that we are all facing a ‘new normal’. Operators seem confident of a slow pick up travel for both leisure and business. Passengers will choose to fly when this is possible, the current issue is not lack of demand for flights, it is the lack of flights available due to lockdown. Until then, pilot jobs must be retained in order to help bring the UK economy back as restrictions lessen and the possibility of air travel increases.
Many of the major operators have announced job losses, most recently easyJet early this morning. Some have put a number on projected pilot job losses, others are yet to do so. Whilst the CJRS remains available until the end of October, the question is whether this will coincide with an increase in air travel, and as Boris Johnson states getting people back in jobs. With some countries starting to relax their borders, there is hope of a return to non-domestic flights as we near the end of summer.
As a pilot union, pressure will be put on operators seeking to make redundancies to demonstrate that there really is no alternative. There are a number of alternatives to redundancy, but employers must be prepared to engage with their workforce to find a way forward and not see redundancy as the easy or only option in what are challenging times for us all.
IPA union membership will ensure that you are treated fairly through any process instigated by your employer, and where the necessary we will take on the fight for members adversely affected during this time.
The IPA can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01444 441149