Billionaire part owner of Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson, has been called out very publicly in parliament today over the forced eight weeks of unpaid leave facing his airline’s staff. The company announced earlier this week that all employees would need to take two months off, without pay, as the airline was grounding around 85% of its fleet.
Billionaire Branson called out by MPs
Virgin boss and well known entrepreneur Richard Branson has been lambasted in parliament, as a North East Bedfordshire MP has publicly criticized his company for forcing unpaid leave on its employees. Conservative MP Richard Fuller laid into the billionaire for the eight weeks off work without salary that has been foisted on the entire Virgin Atlantic workforce this week.
Fuller had done his homework too. In his speech today, he noted that Branson, thought to be worth $3.8bn, could earn £9.9m ($11.44m) from just 2% interest on his fortune; more than enough, he believes, to cover the wages of his employees. As reported in the Metro, the MP explained,
“…the owner, or partial owner of Virgin Airlines has suggested that they should take eight weeks of unpaid leave. And I decided to look and see how much would that cost.
“Well eight weeks at the £94 statutory sick pay would cost £754 per employee. There are 8,571 employees in Virgin Airlines.
“So, if all of them took eight weeks’ unpaid leave that would be a cost of £6.4 million. Sir Richard Branson’s net worth is 3.8 billion dollars. ‘If he’s able to get 2% interest on that money for eight weeks, he will earn the equivalent of £9.9 million.
“So I say, Sir Richard Branson, give up your interest on your wealth for eight weeks and pay your employees yourself their unpaid leave. ‘Big or small – in a small village, a leader of a church or a leader of a large business – when it comes to looking at the protection of your workers, the time is now, and we will judge you all by your actions.”
You can watch the rousing speech in the video below:
Coming out as the bad guy
Branson has long been thought of as a friendly businessman who likes to do things differently. From his early beginnings at Virgin Records to the launch of his space projects, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, Branson has always stood out as a fair and amenable boss.
Last year, I had the chance to chat with one of the first flight attendants ever employed by Virgin. Throughout our time together, she spoke warmly of the billionaire, always noting how he put his employees first.
However, recent weeks have really taken the shine off “Old Beardie’s” halo. The recent Flybe debacle saw no intervention from any of the consortium partners who had bought the airline just a year previously. Sources suggest that Flybe was a matter of weeks from owning its ex-BMI London Heathrow slots; a short term bailout could have allowed them to sell those positions, raising enough capital to keep the airline afloat.
Now, with Virgin employees facing an enormous gap in their earnings, all eyes are once again on the British philanthropist to see what he does next.
Opposition MPs have joined in on the calls for action too, with education secretary Angela Rayner, along with MPs Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler all weighing in on the accusations. Rayner, a contender for the next Labour leadership, demanded Branson sell his island to pay employees.
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 https://t.co/RgmFnKknDc
— Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) March 16, 2020
Richard Burgon, Labour MP for East Leeds, called the eight weeks of unpaid leave ‘outrageous’.
Outrageous -who can afford 8 weeks without pay?
Workers should not pay the price for measures taken in response to the Coronavirus. This is not the way to deal with this crisis. https://t.co/2z8GyNCM0d
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) March 16, 2020
This morning, Virgin employees took to Twitter and LinkedIn in search of new opportunities. It’s not known whether this indicates a move from Virgin Atlantic permanently or just something to fill the two month gap.
However, despite appearances, it seems the ‘red on the inside’ mentality is still strong in most of Virgin’s staff. One employee, Sam Grant, was quoted by Forbes to have said on Facebook,
“You hear Virgin and you automatically think Richard Branson…I get it. But as one of those staff that this is affecting, I just want to leave this here once again….our CEO is doing everything he can to try and avoid job losses.
“It’s not about Richard Branson. It’s about a leadership team who care about each and every one of us and I for one am going to stand loyal to Virgin after 18 years and will be doing what it takes.”
The publication also pointed out that, despite his sizeable overall net worth, Richard Branson may not be as well off as he seems. It says estimates of his worth don’t take into account the running costs of his empire, and notes that his own profits will be suffering as a result of the outbreak.
What do you think? Should Branson stick his hand in his pocket to help out his Virgin family? Let us know in the comments.