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Coronavirus: Belfast International Airport to lay off up to 45 staff due to 'devastating impact' of pandemic

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Belfast International Airport has announced job losses (Liam McBurney/PA).

Belfast International Airport has announced job losses (Liam McBurney/PA).

PA

Belfast International Airport has announced job losses (Liam McBurney/PA).

Belfast International Airport has announced it will lay off up to 45 staff due to fears the airline industry will not bounce back quickly from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement the airport's managing director Graham Keddie said the decision was taken with "deep regret and sadness".

Mr Keddie said the airport would be commencing a consultation with employees across all departments about the introduction of voluntary redundancies.

He estimated that 45 of the airport's 195 employees would be let go.

Mr Keddie said the decision to lay off staff was taken as "we do not foresee air travel returning to pre-Covid-19 levels for a few years".

"Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on both airlines and airports and the recent announcement by the UK Government about imposing quarantine on arrivals will only exacerbate this further," he said.

Unite the Union, which represents workers, has spoken out against the job losses, saying meaningful consultation with workers can't take place at this time.

George Brash, Unite Regional Officer, said the union has written to airport management.

"Any dismissals made whilst the furlough scheme is ongoing would be unfair and will likely lead to an application to the Tribunal for a protective award on behalf of our bargaining unit and individual unfair dismissal claims for any members dismissed.

“The support package offered by the UK Chancellor in March seeks to ensure workforce ‘retention’ rather than ‘termination’ so plans by management to consult on job losses runs directly against the stated objective of the scheme.

The majority of flights at the airport have been suspended to stop the spread of Covid-19 during the pandemic. The airport is losing thousands of pounds a day with only freight services operating.

However, a number of airlines had announced flights would be recommencing, with a number of safety measures in place, over the next few months.

The UK Government has announced all arrivals in the UK must quarantine for a two-week period from June 8.

We do not foresee air travel returning to pre-COVID-19 levels for a few years Graham Keddie, Managing Director, Belfast International Airport

Paying tribute to staff, Mr Keddie said the airport had worked to keep Northern Ireland connected throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

"This has been for emergency medical flights and supplies as well as to accommodate Royal Mail deliveries, military flights and other essential cargo.

"Keeping the airport fully operational is costing £60,000 a day and we cannot continue to operate at this level," he said.

“As we move to reopen for passenger flights in the coming days we regret that we have to make this announcement. We know it will take time for air travel to recover and this is a measure of last resort.”

Mr Brash said: “Belfast International Airport management is effectively seeking to be subsidised by the taxpayer to pay workers during the specified minimum periods of consultation.

“This is clearly an abuse of the scheme; indeed many of our shop stewards are currently furloughed which actively limits their ability to engage in this consultation. In addition they are unable to engage freely and fully with other furloughed members facing redundancy under the terms of the Scheme.

"If would be unfair to dismiss employees while the job retention scheme is ongoing. We have written to demand airport bosses immediately rescind their consultation on job-loss and immediately suspend the current process hastily undertaken," he said.

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EasyJet has been hit hard by the drop in air travel (PA)

EasyJet has been hit hard by the drop in air travel (PA)

EasyJet has been hit hard by the drop in air travel (PA)

The announcement comes after budget airline easyJet, which operates a number of routes from Belfast International, said on Thursday that it will cut up to one-third of its 15,000 employees.

“We do it to make sure that EasyJet not only survives through this period, but also comes out of this as a strong and competitive company,″ CEO Johan Lundgren said.

“This is still the worst crisis that this industry has ever been faced with. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty going forward.”

EasyJet said it did not expect to see air travel reach 2019 levels until 2023.

Ryanair has announced plans to cut up to 3,000 staff, around the same number as Virgin Atlantic, while British Airways is set to cut up to 12,000 jobs as airlines deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Belfast Telegraph