Unions reacted with fury and the threat of legal action today to news that 400 jobs and 12 routes are to be cut at budget airline Buzz.
The axe is being wielded by Irish low-fare carrier Ryanair which is due to take over Buzz on April 1 and which will be grounding all Buzz flights during April.
Ryanair said today that unless Buzz’s remaining staff accepted the takeover terms within two weeks, Buzz – which operates out of Stansted airport in Essex - would be closed on April 1.
The airline said the restructuring was necessary as Buzz was losing almost £700,000 (€1.02m) a week and had inappropriate planes, poor schedules and too-high fares.
Ryanair said remaining staff would get pay rises while fares on Buzz’s 12 remaining routes would be halved.
But unions representing airline staff hit back, with pilots’ union Balpa saying it was taking legal advice and the GMB saying there was “absolute outrage” at today’s announcement.
Kim Winter, managing editor of Holiday Which? magazine, said: “This is appalling and it is clear that the whole situation has been very badly handled by both airlines.”
She went on: “We had none of these sort of problems when easyJet took over Go, which shows that these things can be done properly.
“Ryanair and Buzz have made a right pig’s ear of it and unfortunately it’s passengers and staff who are suffering.”
The Buzz routes to be terminated are Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam, Marseilles, Toulon, Tours, Bergerac, Caen, Dijon, Geneva, Chambery, Brest and Almeira.
Ryanair said that passengers who had booked on flights after April 1 would be offered a full refund and that passengers would then be able to rebook with new tickets, at lower prices, from March 12 to existing or alternative destinations.
Paul Kenny, London regional organiser of the GMB, who had warned of job losses last week, accused Ryanair of treating staff with “contempt”.
He went on: “I visited staff at Stansted yesterday and the only information they were getting was from the media.
“How many more times are we going to have to tell the Government to get to grips with this issue of consulting staff about their future?
“Staff have been travelling to work hearing on the radio that they were going to be made redundant. It is wrong and the Government needs to take urgent action.”
Balpa said it was “angered” by the announcement and revealed it was taking legal advice.
General secretary Jim McAuslan added: “The merger with Buzz is being approached as if it was a fire sale. Buzz employees are not damaged goods.
“This is not the sort of employment practice we expect to see in the UK. We will press the Government to come clean on where it stands on this issue and we will be raising our concerns with the regulator.”
The Transport and General Workers Union said it was seeking an urgent meeting with Ryanair, adding that the plans fell short of legal requirements on consultation.
National officer Tim Lyle went on: “Ryanair is pulling the Buzz strings, but we are no puppets. We will make sure we stand up for the rights of our members.
“It is simply not on for their futures to be decided by the stroke of a pen or the tap of a keyboard.”
Ryanair said it would take over the remaining Buzz routes should staff not agree to the restructuring but that it believed this would not be necessary.
Ryanair added that Buzz was currently “heavily overstaffed” and carried fewer than 3,000 passengers per employee compared to Ryanair’s figure of almost 10,000 passengers per employee.
The Irish carrier went on: “One of the major contributors to Buzz’s current losses is the fact that many of its routes are served inadequately, either once a day when they should be twice or three times daily, or just three or four times weekly when they should at least be daily.”
:: British Airways announced tonight that “following recent developments in the aviation market in the UK”, its franchise operator GB Airways would start flying from Gatwick to Toulon-Hyères in southern France and from Gatwick to Murcia in Spain.
Toulon flights will start on May 1, with five weekly flights increasing to a daily service in the peak summer months.
Three weekly flights from Gatwick to Murcia will start on May 20. Tickets will go on sale from tomorrow afternoon.