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Northern Ireland Affairs Committee - An air transport strategy for Northern Ireland - Minutes of EvidenceHC 76
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
An Air Transport Strategy for Northern Ireland
Wednesday 23 May 2012
David McMurray, Catherine Horgan, Angela Kelly and Paula Spiers
Evidence heard in Public Questions 157 - 219
Taken before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 23 May 2012
Mr Laurence Robertson (Chair)
Mr Joe Benton
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: David McMurray, Regional Industrial Officer for Belfast, Unite; and Catherine Horgan, Angela Kelly, and Paula Spiers, bmi Cabin Crew and Unite members, gave evidence.
Q157 Chair: You are very welcome. Thank you very much for joining us.
David McMurray: On behalf of the union and my colleagues I thank the Committee for the invite to address this.
Q158 Chair: You are very welcome. As you know, we are conducting an inquiry into aviation policy with regard to the impact on Northern Ireland in terms of business, tourism and people flying to see their friends and relatives. We are in the quite early stages of that inquiry but are delighted that you have been able to join us. Mr McMurray, would you introduce your team and make a very brief opening statement?
David McMurray: Yes, Catherine Horgan is my shift steward from the Belfast station; Angela Kelly is my shift steward from the Edinburgh station; and Paula Spiers is, for want of a better term, my shift steward from the Manchester station. I am employed in Northern Ireland but I seem to have been gifted Edinburgh and Manchester as well.
I do not know where this would fit into this Committee’s remit but we have a number of concerns about the BA takeover of bmi. Speaking purely as a trade union, our initial concern is the loss of some 100 jobs in Belfast. Speaking as a trade unionist, our secondary concern is the damage that that may do to the economy in Northern Ireland. British Airways are going to have to recruit some 110-120 people to replace Catherine, Angela and Paula to fly the same number of flights into Belfast, Manchester and Edinburgh as they currently do. So what we see is somewhere in the region of 400 people from the three outstations losing their jobs. They are contributors to their local economy and to Northern Ireland’s economy in particular. They are then going to go on to claiming unemployment benefit, housing benefit and everything else when there is no justifiable economic reason for it that we, as a union, can see. We see a difficulty in that British Airways are going to locate staff in Belfast to fly their first flight in the morning and, if one or two of those staff are taken ill, that first flight does not go. So we do not see how a businessman-or a businesswoman, taking in the demographics of this Committee-
Lady Hermon: Very wise.
David McMurray: -could have any confidence in British Airways delivering a viable service out of Belfast, because people take ill at the drop of a hat. That flight then will be cancelled for two hours. Some 155,000 people fly in to Northern Ireland. Please do not press me on this, but I know from a confidential source that British Airways will operate the hub in Belfast until 2013. Now, Mr Walsh seems to have given an assurance to the Belfast Telegraph, aka John Simpson the Northern Ireland economist, that it will operate until 2014. I do not see that as a long term viable interest in Northern Ireland. We have a person who left British Airways to come to work at bmi: Amy James. When she came to British Airways, she closed down the Dublin outstation for British Midland, and closed Glasgow. She now seems intent on closing Belfast, Manchester and Edinburgh and will shortly be TUPEd into British Airways again.
I am always suspicious and I am always very careful about conspiracy theories, because conspiracy theories become paranoid theories. However, this conspiracy theory only took place four years ago when Lufthansa took over bmi. Lufthansa took over bmi very, very reluctantly. We suspect that Lufthansa took over bmi on the prospect that British Airways would buy out Lufthansa’s share in bmi. It just seems that this Amy James has created the model where British Airways, who are a global brand, are not going to operate out of regional airports. The same number of flights will fly into Belfast and fly out of Belfast, but the staff are going to be made redundant.
What British Midland have offered to the staff in Belfast and my two colleagues is that they can apply for a job in Mixed Fleet or take redundancy. Mixed Fleet means that Catherine has to relocate to London, and for relocating to London British Airways will pay her the princely sum of £10,000 in two charges. They will pay Davy McMurray who lives in Slough £10,000 to relocate to Mixed Fleet. It just does not strike me as fair. Nor is it economically sound because Catherine Horgan, from being a contributing member of society, will have to relocate to London and then earn tax credits. She will be able to claim tax credits whilst working for William Walsh and British Airways. I do not see that as being a fair package for the taxpayer, for Catherine Horgan, for Angela Kelly, for Paula Spiers, or any of their colleagues. I don’t see why I should pay. We all pay our tax; I don’t see why I should pay Catherine Horgan to push a trolley down an aeroplane and to serve me a drink, so Willie Walsh can put more money in his pocket. I just don’t see that as fair or a justifiable expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
Q159 Chair: We will explore a number of those issues as we go along, but thank you for that. Can you clarify which staff you represent as a union? Is it cabin crew and ground staff?
David McMurray: I am in the unique position that in Belfast I represent cabin crew and ground staff, but for the purposes of this I suppose it is cabin crew. And it is Unite; I don’t think I acknowledged that we are from Unite.
Chair: There are a number of issues to explore.
Q160 Mr Benton: Good afternoon and welcome. I was about to ask you what your understanding of the current situation was but in fact, in your opening statement, you have referred to it and expressed your concerns. Obviously I share those concerns too. Let me go in another direction following what you have said about your concerns. Has Unite taken it up with representatives of the British Government or the Northern Ireland Executive? What reaction have you had? Have you taken it up with other companies involved and what has been their reaction to the situation?
David McMurray: I really don’t know how to address the Committee members here, so excuse me my ignorance.
Lady Hermon: You can pick first names or whatever you like; it is fine.
David McMurray: I know your first name is not Lady.
Lady Hermon: You can substitute Sylvia for that one. The point is that the Chairman and the Committee would like you to feel at ease, so just give us as much information as you can and don’t feel at all intimidated or that there is a proper procedure about which name to address a person by. We are all happy with first names, including Ian.
David McMurray: We just want to be respectful, Lady Hermon.
Lady Hermon: I know you are very respectful and you can call me Sylvia without the Lady.
David McMurray: The answer to your question is that I personally have met with Paul Goggins and Tony Lloyd in Manchester. Angela has met with Michael Moore and David Hamilton in Edinburgh. Katie-because Catherine is just so long winded, she is known as Katie-and I have met with the DUP, the Official Unionists, the Alliance Party and Sinn Féin. As the right hon. Mr Ian Paisley knows, we met with Sammy Wilson yesterday, and we have met Sammy in Stormont. What we are trying to do, as a group of workers, employees and a trade union, is to garner as much crossparty support as we possibly can throughout the three regional airports for the campaign. We feel the only people who can put pressure on Willie Walsh and British Airways are-I just knew my phone would go off; I thought I had turned it off. I apologise-
Chair: It is usually mine.
Lady Hermon: It is not an embarrassing theme tune though.
David McMurray: We know that the Democratic Unionist Party met with Willie Walsh yesterday. Sorry, I am trying to switch this thing off.
Lady Hermon: Yes, give it to a woman to do.
David McMurray: If in doubt give it to a woman. This is really sexist, Lady Hermon; come on, give me a break here will you?
Ian Paisley: You are the trade unionist.
David McMurray: What we are trying to do is get as much crossparty support through the three regions to put pressure on British Airways and Willie Walsh to not close the outstations. We do not see any reason for the outstations to close. As I said in my opening statement, the same number of planes are going to fly into the three outstations and fly out of the three outstations. British Airways are going to make some 400 people unemployed and then recruit. They are in the process of recruiting as we speak.
Anybody that knows employment legislation will know that in a redundancy situation there are a number of steps you must take: no overtime; no recruitment. Apparently British Airways, IAG and Willie Walsh are oblivious to employment law in the UK.
Q161 Mr Benton: That, without appearing cynical, is the response I think you would get in normal negotiations. What I am really seeking to draw out is the actual responses. You have cited a few instances where, for want of a better word, the figures do not add up. You have said that it is not fair on the taxpayer and so on and so forth. What has been the response from the Government, the employers and the airlines when this rationale is put before them? How do they respond? Do they recognise that they are not allowed to do it?
David McMurray: From the political parties we have spoken to, the response has been very positive. I have mentioned different political groups, especially in Northern Ireland, who would be politically opposed to one another, and the same with Scotland. The employer who is making these people redundant is British Airways; we have been told that quite clearly. At every meeting we are told it is not bmi who are making these people unemployed; it is British Airways. I suggested they changed the brand name from BA to LA-London Airways-because whilst British Airways is a global brand, it just does not seem to operate globally around the UK. It is British Airways who are making these people redundant and British Airways have been quite blunt and matter of fact that they are not keeping the outstations open. I should have included this in my opening statement: everybody else who is a bmi employee who lives in the south of England, aka London, will be TUPE transferred into British Airways.
Q162 Ian Paisley: Everybody?
David McMurray: Everybody.
Q163 Ian Paisley: I was told there were going to be 1,200 redundancies; 1,200 job losses across the whole of the UK. Is that wrong?
David McMurray: The information we got initially was that there would be 1,200 job losses, but everybody who holds a current bmi cabin crew contract is being transferred into British Airways. The ground staff who would be below wing are being made redundant.
Q164 Ian Paisley: BA do not employ ground staff outwith London, is that not right?
David McMurray: Bmi do.
Q165 Ian Paisley: Yes bmi do but BA’s excuse for that is that they do not employ ground staff in any other airport; they actually buy them from Servisair or wherever.
David McMurray: In London they do.
Q166 Ian Paisley: Yes. You are saying that none of the 1,200 people are actually going to lose their jobs in London.
Catherine Horgan: East Midlands as well.
David McMurray: The bulk of the job losses are going to come from Birmingham and East Midlands. Sorry, maybe I should have been more specific Ian. Anybody employed at Heathrow on a bmi contract will be TUPE transferred into British Airways. What our people are being offered is that they can apply for a job in Mixed Fleet under worse terms and conditions and relocate in London.
Q167 Lady Hermon: Does that only apply to Belfast City Airport?
David McMurray: That applies to Belfast City Airport, Manchester and Edinburgh. Sylvia, you could live in Slough, and Ian lives in Manchester. You get £10,000 to stay in Slough and go to Mixed Fleet. Ian gets £10,000 to move from Manchester to London to work in Mixed Fleet on the same terms and conditions as you and taking reduced terms and conditions than he currently enjoys with bmi. Anybody who is employed in London-I hope I am being grammatically correct-is automatically TUPE transferred over into BA under their bmi terms and conditions of employment. They attract the London weighting and everything. These people do not.
Q168 Naomi Long: The issue I was going to ask you about is the reassurance that has been given by Willie Walsh that the bmi Belfast City to Heathrow service will be retained and is secure. You mentioned already that you are sceptical about that reassurance.
David McMurray: I am sceptical about Willie Walsh’s timeframe. Willie Walsh has given an assurance to John Simpson that Belfast is secure until 2014. That is only a year and a half away. As a businessman I would not invest in Northern Ireland if I could not fly in to see how my business interests are doing. I would suggest that you, as a businesswoman, would not invest in Northern Ireland if you were only going to have a flight into Belfast until 2014. I have it on sound information-please do not push me on naming names-that British Airways intend to pull out of Belfast by October 2013.
Q169 Naomi Long: That is a year after the requirements of the Competition Commission to retain the service, which expires in October 2012.
David McMurray: You are a wee cynic, aren’t you? I am not being funny; I am cynical like that too.
Naomi Long: Okay, thank you.
Q170 Lady Hermon: Could I just interject and ask about the staff who are going to be affected; where it is looking likely they will be made redundant at the expiry of the 90 days and then have to reapply for their jobs on less favourable terms and conditions? The uncertainty must be terribly draining and morale must be very low indeed. Has there been an opportunity to meet with Willie Walsh and say to him, "We have heard these theories and there is a lot of uncertainty about how long your commitment is going to last with Belfast City Airport and London Heathrow"? Have you been able to put these points to him directly? Has that meeting been asked for?
David McMurray: We have requested it on numerous occasions, Lady Hermon. At the last talks I attended, I think on 11 May-
Catherine Horgan: Yes.
David McMurray: -the BA senior representative to negotiations did not even bother turning up to that meeting.
Q171 Kate Hoey: So British Airways, over the head of management level, are ignoring Unite.
David McMurray: They are ignoring their employees, yes.
Q172 Kate Hoey: They are ignoring Unite the union. At the very most senior level Unite have asked for a meeting.
David McMurray: It was a guy called Bill Francis who is the lead negotiator for British Airways in their redundancy talks and TUPE transfer talks for people from Heathrow going from bmi to BA. He asked myself and my colleague for an obligation to clear our diaries, which we gave. I wish I was a Frequent Flyer card holder so I could have a holiday in Florida, but we cleared our diaries and Bill Francis, funnily enough, buggered off to Florida on the day of the redundancy talks. That left me sitting with Amy James from bmi, who are not making the people redundant, leading the redundancy talks. That takes me back to my conspiracy theory.
Q173 Lady Hermon: Was another meeting rescheduled? Surely that happens if someone does not turn up.
David McMurray: No, because at that meeting we recorded failure to agree and asked to raise it to the next level, which hopefully will include Mr Walsh.
Q174 Kate Hoey: This is a serious situation for your members. Why is the union not, at a very senior level, going in and asking for a meeting with Willie Walsh and taking the right people with them?
Angela Kelly: I believe that is because the majority of workers in London Heathrow are safe and we are not.
Q175 Ian Paisley: It has been described to us as geographic discrimination. I want to ask Catherine, Angela and Paula this specifically, because you work the lines: is the case that, because you are Belfast, Edinburgh and Manchester, you are being penalised? Is that the feeling of you and your staff?
Catherine Horgan: Yes.
Paula Spiers: Yes.
Angela Kelly: Definitely, yes.
Q176 Ian Paisley: Could you give us a breakdown, starting with Catherine in Belfast, of precisely the numbers affected here?
Catherine Horgan: About 32 cabin crew. All in all they were talking about 90 but then there are engineers.
Q177 Ian Paisley: Can you break that down for me roughly? So there are 32 cabin crew.
Catherine Horgan: We have 32 mainline cabin crew, who would fly the route of Belfast to London Heathrow. Then there are all the ground staff.
Q178 Ian Paisley: How many?
Catherine Horgan: About 60. I can only give you approximate figures.
Ian Paisley: That is okay.
Catherine Horgan: There are engineers. At the beginning all of them were going to be affected but now they are retaining some of them at Belfast.
Q179 Ian Paisley: Do you have a rough number for that?
Catherine Horgan: About four.
Q180 Naomi Long: Is four the number they are retaining or the total number of engineers?
Catherine Horgan: No, I think at one stage they had about four engineers based in Belfast but then when bmibaby came in they then had to take on extra engineers. It stated in the newspapers that there were no bmibaby crew based in Belfast but that is actually untrue. There are 10 crew members based there.
Q181 Ian Paisley: What about pilot numbers?
Catherine Horgan: There are about 10 or 11 pilots and they were affected as well, but I think they are going to gain employment in Heathrow.
Q182 Ian Paisley: What is the situation in Manchester?
Paula Spiers: There are 69 ground staff, 39 cabin crew and I think there are 10 engineers. There are about 12 pilots; they have been offered Heathrow as well.
Q183 Ian Paisley: What about in Edinburgh?
Angela Kelly: The numbers are roughly the same. There are 34 cabin crew; roughly 5560 ground staff and 8 engineers.
Q184 Ian Paisley: So it is about 150 ground staff. BA do not do ground staff outwith Heathrow. Is the trade union in a position to negotiate places for those people in the likes of Servisair or with any of the other ground crew, or is that up in the air?
Paula Spiers: That is up in the air. It is the GMB that are dealing with that.
David McMurray: I can answer for Belfast.
Ian Paisley: Okay, give me Belfast.
David McMurray: In Belfast I have been negotiating. It will either be Menzies or Servisair who will take those people.
Q185 Ian Paisley: Do you think that for Belfast all 60 ground crew will be taken? It is not a yes or no question; can you give me a statement on this?
David McMurray: I hope so. The business lines are going to be TUPE transferred over. They were the ones who, at the very outset of this thing, were told their jobs were safe.
Q186 Lady Hermon: Was this in Belfast?
David McMurray: Yes but here is the rub: they have been told their jobs are safe but they have not been told who their employer is going to be. It is like saying, "Your job is safe but I am giving you to Joe Bloggs and we do not know how Joe Bloggs is going to treat you in the future."
Q187 Ian Paisley: So the ground staff are still in negotiation but, from what you said earlier-although I am not sure because I picked up two signals there-you are reasonably confident you can satisfy most of those 60 ground staff in Belfast.
David McMurray: I would hope so; I did not say reasonably confident.
Q188 Ian Paisley: So you would hope that you could accommodate them. What is the situation in Edinburgh and Manchester? Do you think the ground staff will be accommodated there?
Paula Spiers: No, I don’t think they will be.
Q189 Ian Paisley: Are any negotiations going on with Servisair or whoever the operator is?
David McMurray: It is a different union.
Angela Kelly: Yes, it is a separate union that look after it. I think they are negotiating jobs with Menzies and Servisair but the jobs will be limited.
Q190 Kate Hoey: Can you do a deal with the other union and talk to them?
Ian Paisley: At the end of the day if planes are still coming in-
David McMurray: I am not involved in Edinburgh or Manchester.
Q191 Kate Hoey: No, but the union is.
David McMurray: I am here speaking for Belfast in this Committee.
Q192 Ian Paisley: If a plane is coming in to Manchester or Edinburgh it is still going to need ground crew, irrespective of who the plane is. If the same number of planes are coming in-we have not got on to that topic yet-then the same amount of ground crew for aviation rules would still be required. One would be hopeful that ground crew would be accommodated. Would that be right Paula?
Paula Spiers: Yes.
Q193 Ian Paisley: So the people who are potentially losing most here, from what I am picking up, are the crews based in Belfast because, geographically, that is where they happen to live and BA will only offer them London jobs, if at all.
David McMurray: I described it in the Daily Mirror as industrial ethnic cleansing. It is redundancy by postcode.
Q194 Naomi Long: Can I just clarify a point on the issue Ian raised about the potential for the ground handling operation to be done by a different organisation but with the same staff. Am I not right in saying that that would be a matter for them of whether they chose to employ the staff who are being made redundant by a different employer? They could choose to fill those jobs from a different pool of people who currently do not work in the industry at all. So unless there is an overarching agreement to take direct transfer there is actually no guarantee and people would have to apply as jobs became available. There is no obligation on the people who provide the ground staff operation in a separate company to take on staff laid off by another company. There may be logic in doing so because they have familiarity with the role and would be experienced if they were to apply, but it would not be as simple as a TUPE transfer across, because you would not be transferring with terms and conditions; you would potentially just be taking a new job. So you may be able to be relocated but you would still have a break in your service and everything else that impacts upon in terms of your longer term future. I am just trying to get some clarity around that. Are there any negotiations ongoing that would talk about transfer en bloc as part of a proper agreement, or is it simply a matter that you are hopeful they may be able to absorb them into their workforce on a one by one, individual basis?
David McMurray: If Servisair or Menzies take on the TUPEs of below wing crew those jobs are not redundant and it is a simple matter of a TUPE transfer. So those jobs do actually cross over on the same terms and conditions. I could not go into George Best Belfast City Airport tomorrow and open up a ground handling service and make all those people redundant, because it would cost me an awful lot of money to make them redundant and then I would have to go through the process of recruitment. If British Airways makes those people redundant and then the new contractor comes in, this union would certainly take any new contractor to an industrial tribunal because it would be a straight TUPE transfer as the jobs were not redundant; the jobs were needed to be kept.
Q195 Kate Hoey: I appreciate that you are all really concerned about the current situation and the threat to jobs, but in terms of our overall study of what we are doing on air traffic, the evidence we got from DETI was that they have set out a number of targets the Northern Ireland Executive should consider to get growth and to help the Northern Ireland economy. Have you as Unite got a view on those targets? Could you tell us what you think are the main obstacles to growth? Is it corporation tax; is it air passenger duty; is it the lack of regional connectivity in air travel? This is a wider question but it is very much key to the kinds of things we are looking at.
David McMurray: I think the Northern Ireland Assembly, which would not be a body I would be very complimentary of, did a wonderful job on getting APD reduced for Northern Ireland. For that I think they do deserve to be congratulated.
Ian Paisley: I thought we did that.
David McMurray: Let’s not butt heads here. I honestly believe that was a good day for Northern Ireland. The George Best Belfast City Airport has a target of-and I sit here to be corrected-about 1.5 million passengers to come through this year. Last year, 1.2 million went through Belfast City Airport. I am not being diverse here, but there will be Members of this Committee who can remember Belfast City Airport when it was a collection of Nissen huts and Shorts owned it. I can remember it. Do not look so shocked, Lady Hermon. Somewhere in the region of 150,000 to 160,000 tourists fly into Northern Ireland and the two main airports would be Belfast International and Belfast City. If we only have a secured flight by British Airways into Belfast City until, using Mr Walsh’s own statement, 2014, I do not think that is a future. I do not think it is a future to build on. There is no business that I know and no business I would go in and negotiate with that does not operate on a five or 10 year plan. What Willie Walsh is trying to sell to the people of Northern Ireland is a two year plan for flights into Belfast. I do not think that is a sound economic basis for a country.
Q196 Ian Paisley: Can I just jump to a question on the back of that? Are you then saying that Northern Ireland only really needs one airport to be sustainable?
David McMurray: No, no, no; I am saying it should be retained the way it is. We have the City of Derry Airport, which is a local airport, Belfast International and Belfast City Airport.
Q197 Ian Paisley: I do not want to be harsh but it cannot stay the way it is. Last year British Midland lost £200 million per year.
David McMurray: Not in Belfast.
Q198 Ian Paisley: Lufthansa British Midland lost £200 million a year, irrespective of where it gets its money from. As a company, and it trades as a sole company, it lost £200 million a year. Not all of its routes could be sustained and it cannot stay the same. What we want to ensure is that Northern Ireland’s public do not get dumped, that they have fair fares, that they have good connections into Heathrow and across the UK, and that current staff are treated fairly in any change. There is going to be change here. From what I have picked up from you, the people that seem to be suffering the worst are the cabin crew based in the regions of the United Kingdom because they are not London contracted. That is the problem to sort out, and whether we can even contribute to sorting that problem out is the thing that taxes me. This is changing because that was a bankrupt company. Bmi lost money, full stop, and it had to go. There is no other way of putting it.
David McMurray: Can I put my cards on the table, as I have tried to do? I want business to make money. I want every company I am involved in to make money because it makes it easier for me, as a trade union official, to go and get a fair share for the workers. I am not in the business of sitting here and begging for preferential treatment to be made for British Airways bmi. What I will point out is that any company-and you could pick another company in Northern Ireland-can lose money because it is multinational and global, but be making money on the route it decides to get rid of. That is my counter argument to what you are saying. Bill Francis has told us bmi was losing £1 million a week.
Q199 Ian Paisley: The bigger picture is that bmi were not doing long haul and bmi therefore lost. Internal, short haul companies are not profitable airline companies. The worldwide picture is that short haul does not make money. What makes money is if you get people to go on to long haul and use short haul as your feeder.
David McMurray: That is what we need.
Ian Paisley: BA makes money; they make about £500 million a year. Next year they will probably make a loss of about £300 million because of petrol prices going up. That is the balance sheet these companies are looking at. Short haul airline companies are not making money. That is why bmi is going to the wall.
David McMurray: But Northern Ireland needs a short haul carrier to get to long haul.
Q200 Lady Hermon: Northern Ireland needs a thriving airport in Belfast City, George Best Airport, and a link between Belfast City Airport and Heathrow. We need that for our tourism and our business. We need that connection, and we need it to be thriving.
Catherine Horgan: I just want to contradict you there. We did have a mid haul-
Lady Hermon: You wanted to contradict Mr Paisley.
Catherine Horgan: Yes, contradict Ian. So basically we did have the mid haul so we were like a feeder base for there. You are talking about saving money. As a bmi crew at the moment, in Belfast, we could be quite productive because we are brought to London and we night stop. At the minute we have bmi crew there night stopping out of London, so you are not paying them the weighting allowance and we are not earning the same money as London Heathrow, so that could be a saving. The Belfast route is also a very lucrative one, I think you would agree. That has always been one of our best routes; the Belfast route has been way up at the top.
Q201 Ian Paisley: I do not think we are contradicting, but we need to recognise that there are two models of operation here and that BA, the new owner, does not have crews based outwith London. If they do, they commute to London to do their work. What I would like to ask is whether we could persuade BA to adopt a change that would allow them to have overnight or based staff from Northern Ireland operating as their crew. Is that a possible negotiation that can be had?
Catherine Horgan: The thing is that if they are going to operate the route into Belfast they are still going to have to night stop crew.
Ian Paisley: They could contract you in Northern Ireland.
Catherine Horgan: So in the TUPE transfer they can shut the base because of economical reasons, but is that necessary in this instance? They are still going to have to bring crew into Belfast and night stop them but take away our jobs. All that is on offer for the Belfast crew and my colleagues here in the other outstations is you either take redundancy or you apply for Mixed Fleet. We are skilled at what we do and we have been doing it for a long time. I think it is also good for the regions to have their own staff bringing passengers.
Q202 Chair: We are going back to the subject we just left about transfers and there are a lot of other questions we want your opinion on, such as growth in Northern Ireland, Heathrow connectivity and lots of other things. While we entirely understand your difficulties with knowing where you are going, we feel we have explored that and need to move on to other subjects now.
David McMurray: I am loth to disagree with anybody in this Committee because I am well aware of what a kicking feels like, whether verbally or physically. I do not like mentioning other companies but I have been involved in a company that is a multinational employer in Northern Ireland and I would regularly fly out to Canada-I hope that identifies the company I am talking about to those people from Northern Ireland-and that is where the short haul comes in; to get me onto the long haul. So there would be short haul from Belfast to Heathrow and then Heathrow to Canada. There are managers, directors and vice presidents of that company flying into Belfast via Heathrow and back again. The company that I have not mentioned are a massive employer in Northern Ireland. Would they still be there if they did not have flights available into George Best Belfast City Airport?
Q203 Kate Hoey: I suppose you would say they could fly Aer Lingus from Belfast International to London Heathrow.
David McMurray: Have you been through them?
Kate Hoey: I have actually. I think Aer Lingus are honest and run a very good service. It is from Belfast International, which happens to suit me better than City, but it does not go against any of your arguments.
David McMurray: It is not a British carrier you are flying with, though.
Kate Hoey: It is actually a joint share plane. BA goes up on it as well as Aer Lingus.
David McMurray: Sorry Kate, you are one up on me there; I did not know that.
Kate Hoey: I did not know it was originally either.
Q204 Lady Hermon: I just want to focus on Heathrow, seeing as we mentioned it in our recent conversation. Bearing in mind what we as a Committee are looking at-an air transport strategy for Northern Ireland-how important is an expansion at Heathrow, or at another site in the south-east of England, do you think for the Northern Ireland economy, particularly for tourism and business? Do you have a view about a third runway, about Stansted or about the estuary airport proposed by Boris? Do you as a union have a view?
David McMurray: I am sorry, Lady Hermon, I am here speaking on behalf of Belfast. I am sure there is a bigger political picture that is way beyond my salary scale in Unite for expansion of a third runway, Stansted, and London City Airport. I am sure the union has an opinion on it, but because I am just a regional official I would not be included in that. I am not being disparaging.
Q205 Lady Hermon: Does anyone else want to comment on that?
Catherine Horgan: I think that because of Northern Ireland’s past it is good to open up the routes and BA are going to open up other routes. So for business to come into Northern Ireland, so it will develop, it would be very important. It could help with expansion and it could bring money into Northern Ireland as well, which would be very important. Not only that but, when you think about the new road to Dublin, it is easy access so if people want to go to Dublin or elsewhere they could use that route as well and bring money into Belfast City Airport and the region.
David McMurray: George Best Belfast City Airport has a probably unique geographical feature, which is that it is right in the heart of Belfast. The international airport is not.
Lady Hermon: And there is no train link
David McMurray: There is no rail link; you either wait for a bus or you get a taxi. George Best Belfast City Airport is right in the heart of the city. We have tourists come in on cruise liners into the port of Belfast; we have spent significant amounts of money on the Titanic Quarter; we have a wonderful building at the top of the hill that you used to attend: Stormont.
Lady Hermon: No, I was never there.
David McMurray: Sorry, I apologise. Well, Ian’s father used to be the First Minister; he attended it. It is a wonderful building. There are all those tourist attractions in the heart of Belfast.
Ian Paisley: I hope local government is more than a tourist attraction.
Naomi Long: You might hope.
Lady Hermon: Let’s be fair; the building is.
David McMurray: I am not talking about the people that inhabit it; I am talking about the building and the grounds. There have been numerous pop concerts at Stormont; I attended a Rod Stewart one. I have just dated myself. Belfast City Airport is in a unique geographic position that flies straight into the heart of Belfast.
Lady Hermon: Yes, I agree.
Q206 Mr Benton: I take it, in the light of your more recent remarks, that the Unite policy would be to see an expansion of destinations out of Belfast. I think that goes without saying and you have referred to it. The question I would like to put to you now is: how do you envisage Unite’s role in trying to push for this expansion, given your experiences? You quoted a few with employers. There is clearly a role for Unite isn’t there?
David McMurray: We only have a role if we are allowed.
Q207 Mr Benton: I totally appreciate that. What I am saying is that, against that background, particularly in terms of expansion of air traffic and air industry even further afield than Belfast and the UK, how do you see Unite’s role in trying to persuade people that expansion is the way ahead?
David McMurray: This is way out of my salary band but I am going to try and answer it. If you are asking Davy McMurray, the way Davy McMurray sees Unite expanding air travel is that we want to play an active, supportive role. That may be coming up with agreements with employers for our members, to assist them and to invest in growing routes. We would not be neglectful in assisting an employer to go forward; that is our duty, and to the people we are trying to secure jobs for. I am speaking slowly because sometimes when I am over here I get accused of speaking too fast and having people not understand me. Sometimes we get accused, maybe not wrongly, of being confrontational. Speaking for Belfast, Northern Ireland, we are not really a confrontational union. We try to assist good employers; we are not going to let an employer walk roughshod over our members but we will try to assist an employer to provide good jobs. There are people sitting around the table here who I have spoken to in the past and who know me from going with a begging bowl for other companies. Where there is a good employer and good sustainable jobs we will work with that employer. With British Airways we are not being invited to the table properly; we are not being invited as a stakeholder. I have three people sitting beside me who are major stakeholders in British Airways. That is their careers, their livelihoods and their families. Paula is a mother; Angela is a mother; Katie can’t find anybody to-
Catherine Horgan: I am the lucky one.
David McMurray: I am sitting here speaking on behalf of three principal stakeholders within British Airways, and British Airways do not want to invite us to the table to see how we can get out of this mess.
Q208 Chair: We want to interview them; we certainly do.
David McMurray: Good luck, Mr Chairman.
Chair: The background you have provided has been very useful.
Q209 Kate Hoey: I have one final question on APD. Will Unite get involved in campaigning and supporting what the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive want to see happening with the reduction of APD on internal flights between Belfast, City of Derry, and the UK?
David McMurray: I did not expect this Committee meeting to be easy but I did not expect to be asked to give Unite policy statements. I would imagine that the answer to that should be that yes we would. Further than that I would not want to go.
Q210 Lady Hermon: That was not actually the last question; I have saved a very interesting one.
David McMurray: Is this Lady Hermon or Sylvia now?
Lady Hermon: This is a passenger who travels, parks the car and, like many people who use the short stay car park at Belfast City Airport, is outraged at the charge. Does Unite have a view of how that could be changed? It is one of the most expensive airport car parks to stay in, in the short stay car parking. We have taken evidence from the chief executives of the three airports and we asked them in order about their car parking policies and the charges. They did not hint that these would be changed. I am sorry that this is based at Belfast airport but I am sure it is a problem shared at Edinburgh and Manchester as well. A very important feature for those who use airports is how expensive it will be to park the car for the length of time required. As users and staff, could I ask your response about airport parking at Belfast City Airport and how that could be changed or ameliorated? Katie?
Catherine Horgan: Well I do not pay for my car parking, which is fine. I am sure there are ways around it. We are in a bit of a recession at this moment in time and I am sure if there was somebody going to go to the airports we could see if a lot of that could be reduced. I am sure there is a way around these things where you could send a party to airports to see whether rates could be reduced, which would probably bring more people in to the airport.
Q211 Lady Hermon: So do you think it has a deterrent effect?
Catherine Horgan: Being quite honest: no. I am speaking from my own personal opinion but I don’t think so because people need to use the airport. Do I think car parking is going to make a difference to them? I personally don’t think it is in a lot of cases.
David McMurray: I am coming from the point of view of a consumer who has to pay for his car parking, even though he claims it back on his expenses. There is an argument being made about the international airport for why they should reduce their car parking because they have competitors. There are all sorts of car parks out of the international airport and there is no reason why the international airport should charge so much. Likewise George Best Belfast City Airport: you are correct, it is extraordinarily expensive to park a car there. My car has been sitting there since Monday; I think it is going to cost somewhere in the region of £38 and I am in the long stay, not the short stay. I know colleagues who park down at IKEA. What used to be Moscow Camp has a car park now where you can park your car and they will bus you up to the George Best Belfast City Airport. There is a sound, reasonable argument why the airports should reduce their car parking charges. They have made their car parks, they have developed the car parks, they have been there a long time and now all they are doing is reaping in the benefits. The benefits were probably made within the first two years of the car parks being open. I think it is £28 a day in the short stay.
Q212 Lady Hermon: Angela and Paula, do you want to reflect on airport charges at either of your airports?
Paula Spiers: People I know, instead of using Manchester, would fly out of East Midlands or somewhere like that, where it is cheaper to park the car.
Q213 Lady Hermon: So it does have an impact?
Paula Spiers: It does have an effect, yes.
Q214 Lady Hermon: You are fortunate that you have airports close enough that people can choose to go to the cheaper one to park, unlike in Northern Ireland.
Angela Kelly: I think people do look for alternative ways to get to the airport. They will use cheaper car parks and get the park and ride buses. In Edinburgh it costs you £1 to drop someone off at the front door as well. I think there are campaigns to stop that too.
David McMurray: Driving to the international airport in Belfast costs you £1 as well.
Lady Hermon: Been there, have that t-shirt.
Chair: Naomi has had to leave and sends her apologies. Nigel has the last question.
Q215 Nigel Mills: To help my understanding; how many staff crew a flight and how many backwards and forwards does each crew end up doing? So how many crews would BA need to staff the route they have at the moment, just the Belfast to Heathrow one?
David McMurray: The three girls did a wee bit of homework last night. Belfast currently has 32.
Q216 Nigel Mills: Is that cabin crew or staff?
David McMurray: That is cabin crew; they are the people who serve you your sandwich or your meal and your drink. We estimate it will take 35 people to replace those 32.
Catherine Horgan: Are you asking how many crews would you need on a daily basis?
Q217 Nigel Mills: Yes; how many does each flight need?
Catherine Horgan: At the moment you need two. You have an early crew and a late crew and then it depends on the aircraft type. If it is an A319 we have three crew on it; if it is a bigger aircraft you have four or maybe five crew.
Q218 Nigel Mills: How many ins and outs does one crew do?
Catherine Horgan: We do two flights; out of Belfast there are about six rotations in a day, which the early crew will do at the moment. We used to do two flights but now we just do one. The late crew will do two rotations from Belfast and two to Heathrow.
Q219 Chair: Okay, thank you very much. I know we have gone a bit beyond what you feel your expertise is.
David McMurray: Once again can I thank the Committee for inviting us to ventilate our bile?
Chair: It has been very useful to get the background. Thank you very much for the information and for coming.