Travel turmoil at UK airports caused by severe labour shortages could be solved by staff opting to work longer hours, a business minister has suggested.
Speaking to Sky News, Paul Scully highlighted the scope for part-time workers to be “more productive” as he was tackled over months of misery faced by air passengers.
His comments came as Heathrow’s boss warned the industry-wide staffing crisis could take 18 months to resolve.
Gatwick Airport has also announced it is reducing the number of daily flights during its busy summer period to help cope with workforce shortages and avoid cancellations.
Airline travellers across the UK have faced months of disruption, culminating in a chaotic half-term week and Jubilee weekend, fuelling concern the forthcoming summer holidays could threaten similar queues, delays and disappointment.
The aviation industry is suffering from staff shortages after letting thousands of people go during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Scully said: “When you start up anything almost from scratch, because there were very few flights going through Heathrow at some points, it takes time to bring the staff back in.
“Our ministers have been trying to work with Heathrow, Gatwick and the other airport operators. We do want them to do more.
“We want to make sure in a tight labour market there are enough people to staff the roles there and we will continue to work with them.”
He added: “There are a record number of vacancies – 1.3 million vacancies across the country in all manner of sectors – but there are also people who have recalibrated what they want to do when they were on furlough.
“We want to make sure that those people that are not necessarily working full time, through Universal Credit we can get them back in to work to be more productive, if that suits them, and obviously match them up with the sectors where there are those vacancies.”
Why is there travel chaos and how long could it go on for?
Pressed over whether this meant people working longer hours, the minister said: “I’m not talking about going out forcing people to do anything, but we just want to make sure that they’re matched up properly so that it’s just that those people who can work longer – that want to work longer – can do.”
Laying the blame on operators, Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry told Sky News: “We have to ask our airlines why they don’t forward plan?
“It’s not as though people turn up unannounced to get on a plane.
“They do book these seats many months in advance.
“Why is it the airlines have not been making sure they have sufficient members of staff?
“Personally, I think they have shed people and now they are having problems getting them back.”
She added: “When I have spoken to airline staff they have said they can’t believe the airlines have been so short-sighted, have laid off so many staff and now they realise they can’t get them back.”