Sir Richard Branson was facing a furious backlash from Labour MPs on Monday after his Virgin Atlantic airline said it will ask staff to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave because of the coronavirus crisis.
As the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continues to grow across the world, Virgin announced an 80% reduction in flights by next Thursday.
As part of this, staff have been “asked” to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary.
The airline said this is to guard against job losses and claimed that unions Balpa and Unite supported the measures.
Rayner, the favourite to win the deputy leadership contest, referred to Sir Richard’s private Necker Island in the Caribbean as she wrote on Twitter:
Richard flog yr private island and pay yr staff, we are in unprecedented times here. Now is the time yr staff need support after making mountains of cash for the company https://t.co/RgmFnKknDc
— Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) March 16, 2020
Outrageous -who can afford 8 weeks without pay?
Workers should not pay the price for measures taken in response to the Coronavirus. This is not the way to deal with this crisis. https://t.co/2z8GyNCM0d
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) March 16, 2020
Butler also wrote: “Paid no tax on £2bn of NHS deals. Sued the NHS! Asks Virgin Atlantic Staff to take 8 weeks unpaid leave during Coronavirus epidemic. @richardbranson is a billionaire making millions from the UK public purse. Pay staff properly, take a pay cut! This is about fairness.”
Coventry South backbencher Zarah Sultana said:
"Eight weeks unpaid leave"?!
Here's a better idea: Tax the super-rich and make sure everyone gets decent pay during this crisis. https://t.co/rYhyJi8aDm
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) March 16, 2020
In its statement announcing the flight reductions and unpaid leave, Virgin Atlantic called for more help from the government.
“The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure,” it said.
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“We are appealing to the government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5bn to £7.5bn, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.
“We also need slot alleviation for the full summer 2020 season, so we can match supply to demand – reducing costs and preventing unviable flying and corresponding CO2 emissions.
“With this support, airlines including Virgin Atlantic can weather this storm and emerge in a position to assist the nation’s economic recovery and provide the passenger and cargo connectivity that business and people across the country rely on.”