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Chief of British Airways owner hits back at ‘unjustified’ criticism from MPs

The Commons Transport Select Committee was heavily critical of British Airways (Gareth Fuller/PA)

British Airways (BA) owner International Airlines Group (IAG) has hit back at “unjustified” criticism it received from MPs last week.

A report by the Commons Transport Select Committee on Saturday said the airline’s treatment of its workforce, in cutting up to 12,000 jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, was a “national disgrace”.

The MPs accused the airline of a “calculated attempt to take advantage” of the crisis by cutting up to 12,000 jobs and downgrading the terms and conditions of the bulk of its remaining employees.

However, Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, wrote on Monday to Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the committee, saying the Government had “no plans” to help restart the aviation sector and that BA employees had been “betrayed” by trade union leaders and elected representatives.

The company also said it had acted “in full compliance with the law” after the committee report accused BA’s behaviour of falling “well below the standards we would expect from any employer”.

British Airways is mired in the deepest crisis the company has ever faced and is acting in a perfectly lawful manner
Willie Walsh, IAG

Mr Walsh wrote: “The approach that British Airways is taking is in full compliance with the law and has been used by numerous employers for many years. Considering this, your criticism in unjustified.

“The people working at British Airways are indeed passionate about the company and want it to succeed.

“I genuinely believe they want to help but they have been betrayed by their trade union leaders and their elected representatives who have refused to engage in consultations from the outset.

“The truth is, indeed, rarely pure and never simple. British Airways is mired in the deepest crisis the company has ever faced and is acting in a perfectly lawful manner.

“British Airways is fighting for its survival, in the face of overwhelming and unprecedented challenges, while respecting the fundamental British value of the rule of law.

“This is not a disgrace. Lying down and surrendering without a fight would be a disgrace and we will not do that.”

The committee said BA had received nearly £35 million from the Government as of May 14 by furloughing 22,000 staff.

Unions told the MPs they were opposed to what they described as a “fire and rehire” approach being considered by the airline.

They said the airline was proposing to give redundancy notices to most of its 42,000 workers and offer jobs with new terms and conditions to a proportion of them, if it could not reach an agreement on job cuts and other changes.

Asked during Monday’s Downing Street press conference about the MPs’ criticism, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Ultimately it will be for businesses to decide how they navigate through this challenge.

“But as I’ve set out we provide a huge amount of support and I know the Chancellor and Treasury are looking very carefully at all the vulnerable sectors as we come through what is undoubtedly a very difficult time.”

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