Aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst joined in a chorus of criticism by MPs of British Airways’ job cuts today.

MPs accused BA of “immoral” and “disgraceful” behaviour in making 12,000 redundancies and insisting remaining staff sign new contracts while taking taxpayers’ money under the government’s job retention scheme.

Huw Merriman MP, chairman of Parliament’s transport select committee, said: “Companies are using this pandemic as an opportunity to sack employees and change terms and conditions.

“It is ethically outrageous that our flag carrier is doing this at this time.”

Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew said BA had “committed a breach of faith” and asked: “Should BA pay a price for that?”

Tolhurst said: “Yes. Businesses are judged on their behaviour. We’ll see how BA is judged by consumers.”

Merriman called for the government “to look at reallocating valuable [airport] slots from companies downsizing [and] using the job retention scheme to pay wages while cutting jobs”.

The aviation minister, who was standing in for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to respond to an urgent question on Covid-19 and its impact on aviation, said: “The job retention scheme was not funded by tax payers to support the wages of workers for these jobs to be cut.

“I would expect employers not to use the pandemic to slash terms and conditions.”

She added: “The government is legally not able to interfere with the allocation of slots. However, I want the slot allocation process to encourage competition and connectivity and will be looking at this.”

MP Claudia Webbe described BA as “immoral, opportunistic and greedy” and asked whether the government would “stand up to this corporate bully”.

Fellow Labour MP Florence Eshalomi described BA’s redundancy consultation with employees as “a sham”.

Tolhurst said: “Terms and conditions are a matter for negotiation with the employer. Government is not a part of these discussions.”

But she added: “Organisations ultimately need customers and if customers think their actions are below par they may think with their feet.”

Conservative MP James Sutherland told the minister: “BA thinks it can behave disgracefully. How does the government intend to mitigate that?”

Former transport secretary Chris Grayling also criticised BA, saying: “I encourage ministers to pressure airlines to minimise job cuts.”

Tolhurst said: “This is a commercial decision for BA. The government will work to mitigate the consequences.

“Shareholders and employers should consider their social responsibilities, particularly when they are taking taxpayers’ money.

“It’s a question for organisations whether they conduct themselves in a socially responsible way.”

Trade union Unite backed the calls for the government to review BA’s landing slots following its “betrayal of its workers”.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “BA is using this health crisis as cover to impose a long-term plan to slash jobs, pay and conditions.

“No other employer has threatened to effectively ‘fire and rehire’ its workforce. There should be consequences to BA’s actions.

“The airline should not automatically have rights to landing slots as it plans to destroy British Airways as we know it.

“There should be a government review of BA’s domination of UK landing slots amid the airline’s betrayal of its workers and the British public.”