Billionaire Sir Richard Branson, stung by criticism that he asked Virgin Atlantic employees to take unpaid leave due to the spread of the coronavirus, has answered with his checkbook.
Branson and the Virgin Group announced they will set up a $250 million rescue package for all 70,000 of the company’s employees to combat “the most significant crisis the world has experienced in my lifetime.”
A spokesperson for Branson told Forbes that the $250 million would come from “Richard and Virgin group” and would not be paid by Virgin Atlantic.
And Branson said he anticipates it will take more than the initial quarter of a billion dollars to keep the employees and the airline going, not to mention Virgin’s other properties—including a debut of a luxury cruise ship.
“…That is likely just the start,” he said in a statement. “Our airlines have had to ground almost all their planes; our cruise line has had to postpone its launch; our health clubs and hotels have had to close their doors, and all bookings to our holiday company have stopped. We are also listening to our team members around the world to see what other things we can do to support them, their families and communities and will be rolling out a series of programs over the coming months.”
The move comes after Branson and Virgin Atlantic were criticized for asking staff from the carrier to take eight weeks of unpaid leave, to the point where British member of Parliament Kate Osborne—who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus—called it “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter.
According to Forbes, Branson says the decision over the controversial unpaid leave came from the employees themselves—“virtually unanimously,” he adds, “in order to limit financial hardship for everyone, secure the airline’s future survival and try to protect everybody’s jobs.”
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