Branson criticised as Virgin Atlantic staff forced to take unpaid leave


Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has been urged by Labour politicians to cover the wages of Virgin Atlantic staff forced to take unpaid leave due to the coronavirus.

The airline, founded by Sir Richard, announced on Monday that it had told staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave due to a sharp drop in demand caused by the outbreak of the virus.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: "It is a disgrace for a company owned by a billionaire to ask its employees to live without wages for two months in the middle of a crisis.

"Richard Branson can put his hand in his own pocket if needs be."

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner urged him to sell his Caribbean island Necker to cover the cost of staff wages.

She tweeted: "Richard flog yr private island and pay yr staff, we are in unprecedented times here.

"Now is the time yr staff need support after making mountains of cash for the company."

Labour MP and deputy leadership hopeful Rosena Allin-Khan wrote: "Everyone is under pressure but throwing hardworking staff out in the cold because shareholders want to keep costs down, is scandalous.

"@richardbranson, Virgin staff have supported you through the years, it's time for you help them through this crisis."

Virgin Atlantic said staff taking unpaid leave will "drastically reduce costs without job losses".

The cost to staff will be spread over six months of salary.

The airline will reduce its flight schedule by 80% and ground three out of four planes by March 26 due to a drop in passenger numbers and an increase in travel restrictions.

The proportion of aircraft which will be parked will rise to 85% in April.