Richard Branson: 'I'm working day and night to look after our people'

The billionaire vowed to keep Virgin Atlantic going but with help from the government

Richard Branson: 'I'm working day and night to look after our people'

Billionaire Richard Branson has addressed concerns about the future of Virgin Group in a lengthy open letter published hours after Virgin Australia entered voluntary administration.

Calling the COVID-19 pandemic the most challenging crisis that he has ever faced, Branson appealed for government support and narrated his teams’ efforts to save as many jobs as they could.

“From a business perspective, the damage to many is unprecedented and the length of the disruption remains worryingly unknown,” the founder of Virgin wrote.

READ MORE: Virgin Australia forced into voluntary administration

Virgin companies employ more than 70,000 workers, across 35 countries, in the travel, hotel and leisure industries, which were among the hardest hit when global travel slowed down in February.

“Together with our Virgin company teams, I am working day and night to look after our people and protect as many jobs as possible,” said Branson. “We have already committed a quarter of a billion dollars to help our businesses and protect jobs, and will continue to invest all we can.”

The challenge, he said, is that “there is no money coming in and lots going out.”

Apart from the cash available to the Virgin Group, Branson’s personal wealth is also being invested into the companies, “with a big part of that going to Virgin Atlantic,” he said.

READ MORE: Boeing offers workers 'voluntary' layoff option

Branson also said the decision to reduce the pay of Virgin Atlantic employees was “virtually unanimous” – decided upon collectively by workers and their unions. “It was not forced upon them by management,” he said.

While Branson vowed to do all that he could to keep the airline going, he also pleaded for government assistance “in the face of the severe uncertainty surrounding travel today and not knowing how long the planes will be grounded for”.

“This would be in the form of a commercial loan – it wouldn’t be free money and the airline would pay it back,” he said. Without government support, he believes, competition in the airline industry would suffer and cause thousands more jobs to be lost.

Aside from his plea with the Australian government, Branson has asked the UK government for a £500m bailout for Virgin Atlantic. The move sparked public outcry, and a signature campaign calling for his knighthood to be stripped was launched online.

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