Workers at Manchester Airport chanted 'save our airport, save our jobs' as they protested for the government to help the industry survive the pandemic.
Cabin crew joined pilots, airport firefighters, ground handlers and travel agents at the socially distanced demonstration outside Terminal 3, organised by Unite the union to highlight the ‘lack of government support and transparency over the traffic light system’.
They were backed by organisations including Manchester Airports Group, pilots’ union BALPA, the North West TUC, and the Business Travel Association.
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Andrew Western, leader of Trafford Council was also in attendance at the event, which coincided with a lobby of parliament on the urgent issue.
It follows an unprecedented year for the hub, with job losses, pay cuts and mass take-up of the furlough scheme.
Mark Bowcock, an airport firefighter who took part, said: "I think we got our point across.
"It's grim at the moment. Nothing's happening. We're just worried that if travel doesn't open up soon there will be more mass redundancies."
With the Government’s furlough scheme set to end in September, there is growing concern that the sector is facing a ‘cliff edge’ with huge job losses unless urgent action is taken.
Unite is urging the government to clarify how decisions are being made on the traffic light scheme and provide funding and resources to help run post-pandemic travel which will involve vaccination and test checks.
They are also asking the Government for an industry-specific furlough scheme to prevent a raft of redundancies.
Mike Gaskill, Unite regional officer, said: “Aviation workers at Manchester and across the UK are crying out for government support and assistance.
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“The sector is in an even deeper crisis as a direct result of government policy.
“The recent decisions about the traffic light system have destroyed any chance of a successful summer season, the time when the sector makes its profits.
“Unless the government takes immediate action then it is inevitable that there will be further large scale job losses, route closures and even company collapses.
He added: “Aviation is essential for the long-term financial success of the UK economy but in order for a viable sector to survive it has to receive short and medium term support from the government."
He said a 'huge pool of knowledge, skill and experience' at Manchester Airport would be lost if there is no extension to the furlough scheme.
He added: "The industry has been haemorrhaging cash for 15 months. We need a package for aviation, whether that be the continuation of furlough or some other package to see us through a disappointing summer and difficult winter through to hopefully a more normal 2022."
It comes as the pandemic continues to have a brutal impact on Manchester Airport.
On Wednesday, just 47 aircraft were due to depart the hub, compared to 319 before the pandemic struck.
Meawwhile, an estimated 5,600 passengers were expected to fly in and out, compared to more than 104,400 on a pre-pandemic Wednesday in June.
Joining the protest, Manchester Airports Group posted a picture of a flight number on its Twitter account every time a flight would ordinarily have taken off on this day in 2019.
Charlie Cornish, MAG Group CEO said the aviation sector had been hardest hit by the pandemic, adding: “Yet government does not seem to appreciate its economic value or trust its own system for the restart of international travel.
“Despite holding back the recovery of an industry that supports more than 1m jobs, and generates billions of pounds of value, there has been nowhere near the level of support offered to other parts of the economy.
“The whole of the travel industry recognises the need to protect public health and has supported every measure government has required in response to Covid-19.
“However, with so much at stake, it is simply unacceptable that government refuses to explain why it is not opening up travel to many popular destinations.
“Together with airlines, we have been left with no option but to challenge the Government’s lack of transparency, and to protest against the stifling of our recovery through this day of action.”
Protests also took place in London today, with staff from Stansted airport joining a march on Westminster.
An online protest was held at East Midlands Airport.
Lord Bilimoria, president of business organisation CBI, said the UK risked being ‘left behind’ as the world opened up for business.
He added: “We can’t be first on vaccines, yet last on reopening international travel. It is essential for trade and business travel, not just tourism, and a key component in any economic recovery.
“The EU has developed its Green Certificate plan for easier movement for vaccinated travellers, while action is also being taken at Member State level, as well as the US and other countries. The international business community are united that global travel should begin to restart with a common rulebook to set standards worldwide.
“We must build on the success of the vaccine programme by removing quarantine restrictions for those who are protected. And to make better use of the green watch-list, avoiding last-minute surprises of countries shifting from green into amber.
“The Government should take a truly risk-based approach with greater transparency on how nations are classified in the traffic light system.”
A Government spokesman said: "Our international travel policy is guided by one overwhelming priority – protecting public health. Decisions on traffic light allocations take into account a range of factors including genomic surveillance capability, transmission risk and Variants of Concerns, with data behind decisions to move countries on the list published online.
“We keep all measures under review and continue to engage with industry and international partners to explore how we can open international travel safely. Both tailored and wider economic support is still available to the sector, including the furlough scheme.”