Since global travel began to slump early in the year we’ve known aviation’s central role in Crawley’s economy would mean the town would suffer the impact of Covid-19 more than most, with Centre for Cities later confirming Crawley would not only be the hardest hit part of the UK, but by a considerable margin.
For all the many warnings, I suspect most people still do not believe just how bad the situation is, and while the first jobs to go will be in aviation Gatwick’s economic footprint is so big no local industry can avoid feeling the pain. Over recent weeks British Airways has announced 12,000 redundancies, with a further 4,500 to go at Easyjet, and 3,000 at Virgin Atlantic. All large local employers and each announcement is on its own a huge source of concern.
Given that aviation is only struggling due to Government interventions in the form of the lockdown, social distancing and quarantining, there is undoubtedly a case for state support to help sustain these businesses until they can get back on their feet. However, at this time neither the sector, nor Crawley as the hardest hit part of the UK, has received any commitment of substantial support from the Government to help keep people in work.
Appalling as that is, it does not forgive employers their own responsibilities. The efforts of BA workers have enabled the company to pay out £3.6bn to shareholders over recent years and Richard Branson has pocketed profits from Virgin Atlantic without paying British income tax for fourteen years.
There is a moral duty on those who have benefited most from their workforce to do what they can to support those people now, but instead of trying to find solutions to retain staff we see companies using the crisis as an opportunity to not only reduce staffing levels but also introduce poorer pay and working conditions for the long-term. Such behaviour is unacceptable and just as it is important for the Government to step in and help these companies through, there must be serious consequences for those who exploit a national emergency for monetary gain.