17 Jun 2009

British Airways asks employees to work for free

3:00 pm on 17 June 2009

British Airways is asking thousands of staff to work for nothing for up to a month to help the airline survive - a request Air New Zealand says it will not copy.

The appeal, sent by email to more than 30,000 workers in Britain, asks them to volunteer for between a week and a month's unpaid leave, or unpaid work.

Airline chief executive Willie Walsh has already agreed to work unpaid in July, forgoing his month's salary of 61,000 pounds, the BBC reports.

British Airways says hundreds of staff have responded positively to the request. But some employees and unions have condemned the plan, saying improvements in the management of the airline were a bigger priority.

In May, the airline posted a record annual loss of 401 million pounds, partly due to higher fuel bills and other costs.

British Airways said other airlines, such as Cathay Pacific, had launched similar schemes and a majority of their workforces had signed up for them.

But Air New Zealand said on Wednesday that it would not be copying the move.

The airline said it is using leave without pay, reducing overtime and flexible working arrangements to help cope with the effects of the global financial crisis.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little says he does not think the British Airways plan would ever be an option for employers here.

"The situations are quite different and I think it would just be unheard of for any airline here or any business to ask its workers to work for a period free of charge. It just goes right against what the employment relationship is about.

"Everybody is making an effort - but I don't think there's any question of anybody ever working for free."

Mr Little said New Zealand employers are more likely to cut back on overtime and look at introducing a nine-day fortnight than ask their employees to work without pay.

Many employers worldwide have imposed pay cuts or reduced hours since the recession began last year.