Jet2 boss: ‘Ministers will allow EU ballerinas but not baggage handlers’

Jet2 boss Steve Heapy is lobbying government to allow aviation to recruit more European Union nationals – pointing out that ballet dancers can come to the UK for work but not aviation staff.

The chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, told a Travel Weekly webcast that the sector’s staffing woes were being compounded by Brexit, which is making the recruitment of workers from the EU much harder.

He said one UK airline had 40% of staff in 2019 from the bloc – but just 3% now.

“As much as government ministers want to deny that Brexit has anything to do with this, it has,” he said.

“It’s taken hundreds of thousands of people out of the system. We’ve got crops in the UK that are rotting in the fields because there is no one to pick them.

“The aviation sector needs a lot of people, we can’t get them. Brexit has impacted them.”

He added: “What the government should do is add aviation to the list of industries that get a bit of help in terms of EU nationals allowed in.

“There is a list of exemptions but the aviation industry is not on it.

“Ballet dancers are on it but not the aviation industry; if you know any ballet-dancing baggage-handlers, please let me know.”

He said he is lobbying government on the issue, adding: “We’ll have to see what plays out within the government, who are slightly distracted with other issues at the moment.

“They may be quite reluctant to do anything that looks like a slight softening of Brexit. It’s a very political issue.”

He also said more incentives are needed “for people to come off benefits and get a job” to help tackle the staff shortages.

“You have baggage handling jobs, or ground operations staff, but people are not incentivised to do that,” he said.

“The benefits system, perhaps, needs to be overhauled but it’s going to be a very brave government that does that.”

Commenting on potential successors to the prime minister, he said they are “quite an eclectic mix of people” but did add that Boris Johnson’s resignation “removes the infighting and uncertainty”.

He said Jet2.com had been recruiting staff from last September and so it was able to cope with the bounce-back of demand – and had not axed flights due to staff shortages, unlike many other rival carriers.
More: Jet2 started recruiting in September to cope with bounceback

Jet2holidays closes gap on Tui as it increases Atol licence

Jet2 offering ‘right product for tougher times’ despite impact of disruption

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