The gentle rolling sound of trundling cases pulled by immaculately uniformed cabin crew is returning very slowly to Stansted as lockdown eases.
The sight and sound of these most visible of Stansted Airport’s workers has been missing for months. Their absence from the village’s streets is alarming as it presages a period of disaster at our region’s biggest employer.
Cabin crew are only a fraction of the massive workforce that staff this global infrastructural hub on our doorstep. Transportation accounts for around 10,000 jobs in our district, according to Nomis – 23 percent of the workforce, which is nearly five times the national average. In neighbouring East Herts, the sector employs 11,000 people, representing 13 percent of the district’s workers.
Transportation jobs have been the main growth driver in the Uttlesford economy over the past five years, up by more than 40% until the pandemic struck.
Stansted saw 59,176 passengers in June, up from 20,607 in May, but this was still down 98 percent compared to June 2019. The collapse of the aviation sector is having a major impact on local jobs.
EasyJet’s announcement this week that it will go ahead with plans to close its base in Stansted defies appeals by local workers and threatens hundreds of jobs – including many of its 335 cabin crew based at the airport as well as those in ancillary sectors. It also betrays the furlough scheme – the airline has tapped public funds intended to save jobs, knowing full well it has no intention of retaining workers at Stansted.
The airline is just one of many operators laying off staff at the airport. Baggage handling company ABM is planning to lay off a quarter of its workforce – 200 jobs at Stansted – and enforce a 15 percent pay cut, in an area of high housing costs where loss of income will lead to instant deprivation.
Ryanair has said it is cutting flight capacity by a fifth in September and October as travel restrictions to some European countries tighten. It is closing its base at Stansted, which will threaten hundreds more jobs.
The scale of the job cuts will threaten the viability of Stansted Airport and is likely to lead to a domino effect of job losses.
Our local economy is on the brink and hundreds of local residents fear a bleak future, but our Member of Parliament remains silent. Instead of meeting workers at the protest lines and speaking out against job cuts, Saffron Walden MP Kemi Badenoch has sat behind her computer at home in Wimbledon issuing Facebook promos for her favourite shops.
Yet, the loss of airport-related jobs will have a ripple effect on the local economy – no amount of public relations fluff will create sufficient demand for independent shops and restaurants if people do not have jobs.
She should be raising questions about airport employers’ breach of the government’s furlough job retention scheme. These unscrupulous employers are tapping a publicly funded scheme intended to protect jobs while laying off workers, instead of holding off after the lock down eases to examine retention and state support. There needs to be a comprehensive support package for the aviation sector to safeguard tens of thousands of local jobs and protect the local economy.
This constituency should not be a springboard for a politician’s career simply because it is a safe seat. We expect better from our representative at a time of existential crisis for the local economy.