'Flog your private island': Furious backlash against Richard Branson over Virgin Atlantic staff's unpaid leave

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 13: Richard Branson poses at Bondi Beach on November 13, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
Sir Richard Branson. (Don Arnold/WireImage)

Sir Richard Branson was facing a furious backlash from Labour MPs on Monday after his Virgin Atlantic airline said it will ask staff to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave because of the coronavirus crisis.

As the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continues to grow across the world, Virgin announced an 80% reduction in flights by next Thursday.

As part of this, staff have been “asked” to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary.

The airline said this is to guard against job losses and claimed that unions Balpa and Unite supported the measures.

However, a number of high-profile Labour MPs – including deputy leadership candidates Angela Rayner, Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler – angrily turned against the airline and its billionaire founder.

Richard Branson prepares to go kite-boarding near his private resort and home, on Necker Island, British Virgin Islands, Sunday, June 8, 2008. Branson, a high school dropout who built his Virgin empire into a world brand, said he plans for his newest property, nearby Mosquito Island, to be transformed into what he touts as the most environmentally-friendly resort on the globe. (AP Photo/Todd VanSickle)
Richard Branson pictured at Necker Island, his private resort and home, in 2008. (AP/Todd VanSickle)

Rayner, the favourite to win the deputy leadership contest, referred to Sir Richard’s private Necker Island in the Caribbean as she wrote on Twitter:

Burgon posted:

Butler also wrote: “Paid no tax on £2bn of NHS deals. Sued the NHS! Asks Virgin Atlantic Staff to take 8 weeks unpaid leave during Coronavirus epidemic. @richardbranson is a billionaire making millions from the UK public purse. Pay staff properly, take a pay cut! This is about fairness.”

Coventry South backbencher Zarah Sultana said:

In its statement announcing the flight reductions and unpaid leave, Virgin Atlantic called for more help from the government.

“The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure,” it said.

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“We are appealing to the government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5bn to £7.5bn, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.

“We also need slot alleviation for the full summer 2020 season, so we can match supply to demand – reducing costs and preventing unviable flying and corresponding CO2 emissions.

“With this support, airlines including Virgin Atlantic can weather this storm and emerge in a position to assist the nation’s economic recovery and provide the passenger and cargo connectivity that business and people across the country rely on.”

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