Gatwick Airport plans to slash headcount by around a quarter as passenger numbers fail to recover.
The proposals could see around 600 people – 24% of its workforce – made redundant, and the company is now entering into formal consultations with staff.
Impact of Covid-19 on aviation
August – traditionally one of the airport’s busiest months – saw passenger numbers down 80% compared with 2019. It is currently operating from only one of its two terminals as traffic and passenger volumes are so low.
Around three-quarters of its staff are still on furlough, with the airport only operating on roughly 20% of its capacity.
Three major airlines – British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian – have suspended flights or closed their operations at the airport.
“If anyone is in any doubt about the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the aviation and travel industry then today’s news we have shared with our staff, regarding the proposed job losses, is a stark reminder,” said Stewart Wingate, Gatwick Airport CEO.
“We are in ongoing talks with government to see what sector specific support can be put in place for the industry at this time, alongside mechanisms which will give our passengers greater certainty on where and when they can safely travel abroad. This support will not only help Gatwick but the wider regional economy which relies on the airport.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our staff, those who have worked tirelessly to keep Gatwick open throughout the pandemic and those who have had to remain on furlough, for their dedicated tenacity, professionalism and team spirit. We will continue to do all we can to preserve as many jobs as possible.”
Regional analysis by the Centre for Cities earlier this year found that nearby Crawley had the highest risk of significant job losses because of its status as a service town to the airport.
When the pandemic took hold in March, Gatwick was able to secure a £300m bank loan to help preserve jobs and manage its cash outflows. However, this latest announcement appears to suggest this support was not enough to allow it to continue operating in its current structure.
Gatwick Airport has provided no further detail about which roles would be affected.
The Unite union said the announcement was another example of the government’s “chronic failure” to support the aviation sector.
“The extension of the job retention scheme well into 2021 would be an important first step and would help stem the jobs carnage that is currently being experienced,” said regional officer Jamie Major.
“Unite will be entering into formal negotiations with Gatwick Airport to ensure that redundancies are minimised and that all redundancy procedures are fair and fully transparent.
He said the entire workforce at Gatwick had been “left reeling” by the announcement. “There are thousands of workers who are employed directly by the airport, by an airline, by a contractor or in the supply chain who are under threat of redundancy or who have already lost their jobs,” he added.
Meanwhile, Unite has alleged that BAME British Airways staff have been disproportionately affected by job cuts at its Gatwick operation, which were announced earlier this year. BA has refuted the claims.
It found that 61% of BAME flying staff respondents to its survey have been made compulsorily redundant or demoted, compared with 41% of white workers.
Some 80% of its mixed-race; 67% of Asian and 83% of Muslim BA cabin crew members at Gatwick have been made redundant or demoted, Unite claimed.
It is understood that less than 50% of cabin crew took part in the survey and not all are members of the union.
A British Airways spokesperson said: “As a global company we promote an inclusive culture and our commitment remains to improve the diversity of our teams. This restructuring has been an incredibly difficult and painful process for everyone involved, caused by a crisis not of our making.
“Our selection criteria are fair and non-discriminatory, focusing on performance, attendance and skills. We consulted fully with Unite on these criteria.
“Ethnicity was not a factor in our selection process as this would be both discriminatory against other groups and unlawful.”