EasyJet has announced plans to axe up to a third of its entire workforce, as it battles to survive the collapse in air travel sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Union leaders called the move a “kick in the teeth” and called job cuts a “knee-jerk reaction” to a temporary crisis facing the aviation industry.
Its latest statement on Thursday did not specify how many jobs would be affected, but it is thought likely to affect up to 4,500 workers.
EasyJet’s annual report at the end of last year said it had 15,000 employees across eight countries in Europe, including 4,000 pilots and 9,000 cabin crew.
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the pilots’ union Balpa said: “EasyJet staff will be shocked at the scale of this announcement. Only two days ago staff got a ‘good news’ message from their boss with no mention of job losses so this is a real kick in the teeth.”
He said staff had already taken pay cuts to help keep the airline afloat, and that it had not discussed the plans with Balpa. “This is a temporary problem that doesn’t need this ill-considered, knee-jerk reaction,” he added.
But Johan Lundgren, easyJet CEO said: "We realise that these are very difficult times and we are having to consider very difficult decisions which will impact our people, but we want to protect as many jobs as we can for the long-term.
“Although we will restart flying on 15 June, we expect demand to build slowly, only returning to 2019 levels in about three years' time.”
The announcement comes after a tumultuous few weeks at EasyJet. It has not only seen its flight revenue almost entirely wiped out, but also revealed it has suffered a cyber-attack that exposed nine million customers’ details to hackers.
Earlier this week, its finance chief announced his departure next year just a week after surviving an effort by the company’s founder to oust him.
The leading UK airline has been embroiled in a bitter row between its board and its founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou over a deal to buy planes from Airbus. The founder, also its biggest shareholder, sought to remove the company’s finance officer, chief executive, chair and a non-executive director at its general meeting last week.
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The latest announcement is also the latest in a wave of job losses to hit the sector in recent weeks.
It comes just days after British Airways owner IAG (IAG.L) announced 12,000 staff could face redundancy in late April, followed soon after by Ryanair (RYA.L) who said 3,000 mainly cabin crew and pilot staff were at risk.
Airlines say the outlook has deteriorated since the pandemic began, with hopes of a swift recovery now long gone. Social distancing rules will limit capacity and and weaker appetite for travel is expected to remain a drag on demand for years to come.
Unions have slammed airlines for not using government job protection schemes. But industry leaders appear to believe they will not be enough to save all jobs in the long run.