Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union accused Stobart Air, which operates Aer Lingus’ regional service, of cynically ditching its workforce at Southend airport, during the coronavirus crisis. These employees operate flights to European and regional destinations including Antwerp, Manchester, Edinburgh and Newquay.
Not only had the airline laid off over 30 Unite members who were employed as cabin crew with the regional airline. These staff members have been laid off without pay, initially for four weeks from 1st April.
Unite sought to follow the procedure, which has become the norm for the aviation industry, that the workers were furloughed under the government’s job retention scheme and therefore would receive 80 per cent of their pay. The union said that it is concerned Stobart Air was forcing workers onto unpaid leave so they would look for jobs elsewhere, which in turn would cut redundancy costs if Stobart closed down operations.
Stobart Air has refused to implement the furlough option citing “cashflow issues” and has also declined to seek further financial assistance from the government. This has led some in the industry to speculate regarding Stobart’s financial stability after the collapse of Flybe earlier this year, of which Stobart was one of a trio of investors.
Jo Jaques, Unite regional officer said: “Stobart Air has taken the cynical decision to ditch its workforce without pay. It is well known that the aviation sector is facing an unprecedented crisis due to coronavirus. However, while most of the sector is doing the right thing in using the government’s scheme and standing by their staff, this is not the case for Stobart Air.”
“Stobart Air needs to immediately reverse this decision and immediately furlough our members who otherwise will be left literally penniless with no way of feeding their families and paying their mortgages or rent.
“Stobart Air’s actions reflect very poorly on Aer Lingus, a famous name in the aviation sector, who it would be hoped will look very dimly on the way one its key contractors has decided to treat its workforce.”
The firm has also laid off staff in Dublin, only running a small number of flights between Dublin and Kerry and Donegal which are operating as part of a public service obligation and funded by the European Union.
A spokesperson from Stobart Air said: “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the demand for airline services decrease at unprecedented levels globally. As a result, Stobart Air is currently operating a reduced schedule and has temporarily suspended all international flight operations which took effect from Saturday 28 March until further notice.
We have been engaging with our staff, and staff representatives throughout this time, as we work to implement difficult measures to reduce the cost base in protecting the future of our airline.
Given the decision to suspend international and domestic services from Southend Airport, temporary lay-offs will be introduced. 16% of Stobart Air staff will be retained to operate our domestic intra Ireland services and to allow us to work toward the recommencement of services as soon as it is advised and as demand returns when Government travel restrictions are lifted.”
The airline spokesperson said the carrier was making the changes to protect the business against the current situation and position it for the future.
The spokesperson continued: “We are very mindful of the impact these measures have on our team, who have shown immense professionalism and forbearance at this time. Stobart Air’s operations has proven to be popular with millions of passengers over the years. Central to this has been our team of pilots, cabin crew, ground and executive staff. We remain committed to the resumption of services once the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.”