John McDonnell MP
With Heathrow in my constituency, I have a natural interest in protecting the livelihoods of my constituents who work at the airport and in the supply chain. Before I stood down as shadow Chancellor, one of the last conversations I had with the Chancellor was about securing an aviation strategy and bringing various partners in the sector together to do that. I regret that no effective co-ordinated strategy has been forthcoming, and in the absence of that strategy, we have seen the law of the jungle rule that sector. As a result, many of my constituents are experiencing real uncertainty, stress, distress and hardship, as they lose their jobs and have their wages cut.
Companies such as British Airways and Heathrow Airport Ltd have seen the pandemic as a crisis not to be wasted—an opportunity to secure long-held ambitions to reduce wage levels and withdraw hard-won benefits in the terms of employment secured in negotiations over the years. Many employees feel as though they have been treated like chattels rather than loyal employees for decades.
Although the pandemic might be with us for the next year in some form, with the potential of effective vaccines in sight, covid is likely to have a relatively temporary effect. That is why the aviation trade unions were willing —indeed, proposed—temporary measures, including temporary reductions in wages and job numbers to tide us through the pandemic. Instead, Heathrow Airport Ltd and British Airways are demanding permanent pay cuts and the permanent erosion of conditions of employment. That has provoked palpable anger among workers at Heathrow. As my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) said, we now face a strike before Christmas, which would not be necessary if management recognised their responsibilities.
Whether it is Heathrow’s brutal treatment of my constituents or Rolls-Royce’s appalling treatment of the Barnoldswick community, we must all call upon these companies to withdraw their threats to their employees and get back round the table to negotiate a sensible way forward. We also now need the Government to live up to their responsibilities to bring together all the partners in the sector, employers and trade unions, and then bring forward a programme for the immediate and long-term future of aviation. It should include the support that airport and aviation communities need immediately. I think there is a consensus building on many of the measures that hon. Members have set out today, but there also needs to be support as part of the just transition to an environmental aviation policy. That will mean, in some instances, ongoing financial wage support and retraining and educational opportunities to assist people into alternative employment, and, in my constituency, investment in the west London area to rebalance our economy for the long term. What we need, in short, is an aviation community strategy.
I feel a sense of desperation among my community about what is happening to them at the moment. I believe that desperation will feed through, unfortunately, into internal levels of distress. We are already seeing a rise in mental health problems within our community now, and we need action from the Government. Eight months on, after first mooting an aviation strategy, now is the time for further—and decisive—action from the Government.