Industrial Relations: British Airways 1970s style?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009 - career coaching, economics, Employment, job hunting, Legal, politics

Industrial relations: British Airways 1970s style?


I was going to write a blog entry last week re the industrial relations dispute at British Airways, but decided to wait until the weekend for both the media reaction and reflection of the High Court strike ban on what was deemed an illegal ballot.

I thought that there may be some great articles on what this means for industrial relations in the future, how others unions may be affected, what this meant for British Airways as a business (deemed by some as a pensions deficit with a few planes attached); and perhaps the odd piece of pithy editorial comment.

But sadly, much like London Transport, there wasn’t a good article in sight in most of the papers – but there were two in the Telegraph.

British Airways Industrial Relations

Firstly, Kamal Ahmed’s Senseless phantom flight epitomises BA woes, which looked at the control the unions have over BA with regards a flight that was diverted from Heathrow to Prestwick, due to excess snow in London. While all the crew were willing to fly a hop down to London, the union convenor banned it, requiring taxi’s for frustrated passengers, taxi’s for the crew, and the dispatch of a replacement crew. Ahmed rightly questions who control’s BA, and concludes that the situation may not be as bleak as first thought, when both the existing Gatwick staff are on the “new, draconion” conditions, and the adverse reaction of the BA staff who suddenly found they had signed into a 12days hiatus over Christmas and New Year.

Secondly, Jeff Randall’s BA’s selfish staff are symbolic of a country that’s falling apart, looked at the signs of BA’s problems and how it reflected in UK plc. As Randall points out, a Cabin services Director can’t in these times of RyanAir and EasyJet simply act as a manager at 40,000ft: work practises need to change. Randall also points out the crocodile tears of BASSA/Unite of the decision to cause chaos and ruin holidays had been taken “with a heavy heart,” when compared to the YouTube video coverage.

Why is there a problem here? We are sat in economically impoverished times, the number of passengers is down, the company is losing money, and they need to change? The first sign of problems should be that one set of staff have a different set of terms and conditions to another set of staff: BA may be one brand, but the airline is a conglomerate of old airlines and their hubs/conditions. The second should the rates of pay: BA staff on average are paid twice as much as Virgin Atlantic staff – yet which one always scores better in customer satisfaction surveys? The third is hidden to the casual observer, but actually bragged about in the right location: BASSA is the largest single part of Unite according to their website!

All of this adds up to a cocktail of difficult industrial relations – evidence by BA’s poor industrial relations record.

If I were a job seeker, would I join BA? No, it beggars belief that media projections of staff reductions of at least 10% are probably under stated. Secondly, would you want to work in a happy crew, or an unhappy one controlled by unions and age old T&C’s? No wonder Virgin Atlantic can have the pick of the crop of new air travel job entrants.

British Industrial Relations

What does the dispute say about industrial relations in the UK? I think on the whole they got better under John Major who consolidated the tough legacy of Thatcher, and probably even better under the early years of New Labour. But since the assent of Gordon Brown, I think it is one of the issue which indicates a need for change in approach if we as a country are to address our national debt problems. There is no need for a swing back to the employer, but there is a need, as Jeff Randall points out, for greater engagement.

Good Luck!


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