Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 10th June 2020

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.

2 comments

  1. Indeed we are about to see a terrible irony , on a number of levels , in this blow to Crawley which you have outlined so well .Right across the community there will be an impact .
    What with the implications Brexit was already having for our ‘ low paid ‘ BAME workers , they have been hardest hit by Covid 19, a fact reinforced daily across the world.
    ‘ Well paid ‘ and low paid BAME workers experiencing the double penalty by Covid 19 and job losses .
    You suggest serious consequences for the amoral twist of billionaire business owners not paying taxes and with the government failing to work out a better outcome. Why do we have these gaps in the system that fail to retrieve those taxes and perpetuate exploitation of the workforce ?

  2. Non-domiciled tax status certainly requires review, which would help to avoid the perverse situation where billionaires benefit massively from public spending without contributing their fair share towards it. You might find this talk interesting on how high tax/public spending countries actually tend to produce more millionaires: https://www.ted.com/talks/harald_eia_where_in_the_world_is_it_easiest_to_get_rich?language=en

    In terms of the airlines. The Government is undertaking large-scale interventions in the market right now in terms of restrictions around Covid-19. For the aviation sector, these restrictions critically undermines the low-cost airline model to the point where without financial support (at minimum in terms of extending the furlough scheme we have a vaccine or herd immunity has developed) it’s hard to see how these companies will survive. Other countries are providing this support, but attach conditions to it (something Labour has already called for in terms of increased obligations to address the environmental impact of the sector), we could similarly attach requirements around working conditions (and/or preventing dividends until such a time as public money is no longer required).

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