BRITISH AIRWAYS have been slammed as one of the worst examples of a company using the coronavirus crisis to slash staff costs and erode workers’ conditions.

The UK’s flagship airline announced on Tuesday that it is to cut 12,000 jobs. The blow followed allegations, revealed in the Sunday National, that crews who have continued to fly during the pandemic were being put at risk through the lack of PPE and inadequate hygiene aboard planes.

Unions have hit out at the company’s proposals, claiming that management is using the crisis as an excuse to axe jobs, impose poorer working conditions and lower wages.

They are angry that BA has turned its back on a government bailout despite the fact that airlines across the world are being supported by their governments.

Unions also argue that it is immoral and possibly illegal for the company to announce the swingeing cuts when it has received taxpayer money through the government’s coronavirus crisis schemes designed to protect jobs.

Group chief executive Willie Walsh, known as “slasher Willie” to his workforce, has refused to ask for a UK Government bailout, even though Spain-based parent company IAG has just accepted a €1 billion bank loan backed up to 70% by the Spanish government for its Spanish operations.

Analysts say Walsh is against any airline bailouts from the UK Government in the hope that competitors such as Virgin Atlantic, who have much lower cash reserves than BA, will go to the wall because of the pandemic.

READ MORE: British Airways staff fear poor hygiene is putting them at risk

It is also thought Walsh, who has delayed his retirement to put through the plans, is also against a state hand-out in case there are strings attached which could thwart the cost-cutting proposals.

Unions claim these are just a continuation of a plan first drawn up by the company 10 years ago which was put on hold because of strike action by the employees.

“While the details of these proposals are different it is essentially a continuation of the same process,” Unite national officer for aviation Oliver Richardson told the Sunday National.

“British Airways are using the current issues to try to introduce wholesale changes in workers’ pay and conditions.”

He said it was “concerning” that IAG was not seeking a solution similar to the Spanish deal for BA.

“Rather than seeking to preserve jobs and workers’ terms and conditions and act for the good of the aviation sector, British Airways is guilty of an act of smash-and-grab opportunism which is designed to boost their profits in the future and to try to force other operators out of the UK aviation sector,” he said.

Currently there are different working agreements for BA’s three crews. The long-haul and short-haul crews have fought hard for many years for decent conditions and pay. The newer Mixed Fleet crew is worst paid and has poorer working conditions – and a bigger turnover of staff.

BA has long wanted to merge the crews on to Mixed Fleet terms, it is claimed, and a letter seen by the Sunday National confirms this is the plan.

“We are proposing to remove the existing fleet structure and create a simple, single group of cabin crew, with a single set of terms and conditions and operating to higher levels of flexibility,” says the letter.

“If we are unable to reach agreement on these proposals as part of the consultation process, then we would propose to give all employees notice of dismissal by reason of redundancy and/or some other substantial reason, and offer a proportion of them employment under new terms and conditions.”

The letter goes on to say that those made redundant will be given only statutory redundancy pay, rather than a severance package – which is usually substantially higher, particularly for long-term and higher paid employees.

READ MORE: The new head of the STUC on coronavirus and workers' rights

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Not content with needlessly and callously dumping 12,000 loyal workers on the dole queue, wrecking not just its own workforce’s lives but risking the viability of the entire UK aviation sector, British Airways is also seeking to rip up agreed contracts and force down terms and conditions. This is appalling, shameless opportunism from a company that posted profits of over £3.2bn last year.

“UK taxpayers have not handed over their money to BA for it to embark on an opportunistic course of slashing jobs.”

McCluskey pointed out that the “devastating” announcement had come on day of the funeral of a “long-standing and much-loved” cabin crew member who had died from the coronavirus, contracted while bringing home UK citizens stranded overseas.

He said the announcement was a “stab in the back” and a “heartless” decision in a time of national crisis.

Referring to BA chief executive Alex Cruz, McCluskey added: “With the majority of BA’s workers on furlough, we would have expected him to work with both us and the Government to honour the spirit of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme.

“Governments across Europe, in Spain, Germany and France, are working with trade unions and airlines to rebuild the industry, keeping people in work while the sector recovers.

“To reject government support but then expect their own staff to pay the cost of such a misjudgment is irresponsible, dangerous and destructive and is utterly at odds with the mood of the country at a time of crisis.

“This workforce has worked tirelessly, heroically and unnoticed throughout this crisis, in dangerous circumstances on the global transport front line.

“They simply do not deserve to be treated as a commodity to be disposed of in this way.”

GMB national officer Nadine Houghton pointed out that 80% of BA’s staff had been furloughed on the government scheme.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, said: “This has come as a bolt out of the blue from an airline that said it was wealthy enough to weather the Covid-19 storm and declined any government support.”

IAG said the recovery of passenger demand to 2019 levels could take “several years”.