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Baggage handler Swissport shuns furlough as it axes 3,200 jobs

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
Swissport moving staircase at Luton Airport. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Swissport moving staircase at Luton Airport. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images

The airport and baggage handler Swissport is under fire for refusing to furlough workers facing redundancy after the UK government extended its job retention scheme.

The company has confirmed around 2,020 staff face compulsory redundancies and a further 1,181 voluntary redundancies, as it battles to survive with air travel suffering an unprecedented downturn.

The cutbacks mark a significant reduction however of around 1,300 jobs on Swissport’s initial plans announced in June, where it proposed cutting 53% of its entire UK workforce.

A Swissport spokesperson said the move followed an “extensive national consultation” with the GMB and Unite unions.

But it now faces a backlash from the GMB for not reinstating staff through the government’s furlough scheme. The programme of wage subsidies, offering government support towards 80% of typical incomes for workers whose roles are at risk, was extended earlier this month until next March.

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The extension came only at the last minute, with many employers axing staff in the run-up to the initial 31 October deadline as they faced a cliff-edge of support suddenly tapering off.

“This is a devastating blow for thousands of our members,” said Nadine Houghton, a national officer at the GMB.

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“Some of the blame must lie with the government for ignoring the needs of the economy before making a screeching U-turn at the last minute.

“But ultimately thousands are now facing the prospect of a joyless Christmas with no job thanks to Swissport's intractable attitude.”

The GMB said it wrote to Swissport formally requesting furlough, formally known as the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS), be used for those facing job loss, but said the company declined.

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A Swissport spokesperson told Yahoo Finance UK that workers already on furlough but due to return in November would remain on furlough, but added: “As the CJRS has been extended to protect viable jobs, unfortunately we cannot make use of the CJRS in the case of the confirmed circa 2,020 compulsory redundancies.

“Sadly we know the level of flight volumes necessary to make these jobs viable doesn’t exist right now. We are facing several years of difficult recovery and we must focus on the jobs we have managed to mitigate in order to remain a stable and reliable partner.

“This has been a very difficult decision to make and we understand it will be immeasurably harder for those leaving the business. This is not in any way a reflection on the quality of work from our skilled and dedicated colleagues.

“The fact is, this is the most challenging period our industry has faced for decades and unfortunately, it’s not a situation that hard work alone can address.”