British Airways has won an injunction to stop the strike by cabin crew that was due to start today.
So who is in the right here, management or Union? The answer is clear. Both sides are 100% wrong.
It is obvious that striking against struggling BA is not in the long term interests of the crew. The strike can have only one effect – which is to damage the airline further. That in turn will cause further damage to the company’s ability to pay its staff, and mean that future deals on pay and conditions will be worse than they otherwise would have been.
The offer from BA, which the Union is opposing, contains measures that would be regarded as old hat in most companies.
- Reducing the number of cabin crew on long haul flights from 15 to 14. Would those staff really not be able to cope with that 7% reduction in staffing?
- A two-year pay freeze from 2010. That is now commonplace in many private companies (including the one I work for) and is about to be extended into the public sector.
- New contracts for fresh recruits and newly promoted staff, which would introduce a single on-board management grade, promotion on merit, no seniority and pay at market rates plus 10%. Frankly, it is astonishing that old-style nationalised industry restrictive practices like seniority and “Buggins’ Turn” promotion have survived as long as this at BA. It is also amazing that the Union have objected to “only” being paid 10% above the going rate.
However, the Union claims it has now reached agreement in principle on all of this with the airline. The sticking point now is travel concessions, which were withdrawn permanently from staff members who took part in a previous strike, and some disciplinary action that has been taken against “more than 50″ union members.
Those remaining issues do not sound to me like major ones that couldn’t be resolved by talking, without a damaging and disruptive strike.
Assuming, of course, that British Airways managers are keen to resolve the dispute. They went to court to stop the strike on a pure technicality. The claim was that the Union did not correctly notify its members of the results of the strike ballot. It is often said that the law is an ass, and in this case, the court provided ample justification for that view by supporting BA. Stupid though the strike is, getting the courts to stop it on such spurious grounds is misuse of the intention of the law, and brings that law into disrepute. BA should be ashamed of itself for that.
BA should also consider the effect on its staff. Eventually the only way forward for the company is for the staff and the management to work together as a single team. One day they will have to do that. Will misusing the law to stop a strike, when a big majority of staff voted in favour, bring that day any closer? Or will it further alienate staff and cause more resentment and ill feeling?
Looking at those industrial dinosaurs battling it out with strikes and retaliation by legal action, while the company faces an uncertain future and long term decline, is profoundly depressing.
I am going to Munich later this year for a holiday. I looked at several airlines for our flights. Easyjet were the cheapest – no surprise there. Lufthansa were only a little more expensive than Easyjet, and the difference was easy to justify based on the additional service you get like allocated seats.
And BA? Their price was 50% more expensive than Lufthansa. Why would I or anyone else choose to fly with them on those terms? Because we like the pretty red, white and blue uniforms?
If the Union don’t like the management’s cost cutting proposals, they need to explain how they believe those cost differences should be addressed. And BA management need to explain why they have allowed this lack of competitiveness to fester for so long, when the company has been in the private sector for more than 20 years.
Both the Union and BA management need their heads knocking together. They need to understand that their passengers owe them nothing, any of them. If their airline collapses, nobody will mourn. Their competitors will be happy to take their airport slots, and eat their lunch.
None of us care about the Union’s grievances, or about the management’s macho desire to break the Union. If they can’t resolve their differences, we don’t care. There are lots of other airlines that will be happy to fly us wherever we want to go.
If they want a place in our future, BA and the Union should do a deal and get back to work, together, fighting their competitors for the business of people like me.
Meanwhile, my money will be putting lunch on the tables of Lufthansa’s German crews.