Union Warns British Airways About Plans To “Move Towards Industrial Action With Immediate Effect”

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British Airways and their respective trade unions have been in disagreements for years and most recently this fire has been fueled again as the carrier reveled a “fire and re-hire” solution to streamline the company through the Covid crisis.

Union leaders have now sent an explicit warning to British Airways management saying that immediate industrial action (strikes) would be forthcoming if no suitable agreement is reached.

Like most airlines worldwide British Airways and they mother company IAG has been hit hard by the Coronavirus and subsequent shutdown of international travel.

As a consequence British Airways has acknowledged that air travel as well as the company itself will likely shrink significantly for the years to come and is planning to possibly let go of about 12,000 staff plus fire and re-hire further employees.

According to a BBC report BA is now once again on a collision course with the unions.

The head of the trade union Unite has warned British Airways that it plans to move towards industrial action against the airline “with immediate effect”.

Unite and BA have been at loggerheads for several weeks. In April, BA owner IAG warned it could cut up to 12,000 jobs due to the impact of coronavirus.

Staff were warned that if agreement was not reached, they would be handed their notice and re-hired on new contracts.

BA said it was disappointed by Unite’s criticism.

For many long-serving staff, BA’s plan would involve significant pay cuts, as well as changes to terms and conditions.

Unite – which represents thousands of BA employees including cabin crew, engineers and maintenance staff – has accused the airline of operating a ‘fire and rehire policy’.

In a letter to BA’s chief executive Alex Cruz, seen by the BBC, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey accuses Mr Cruz of “arrogance” in his dealings with the union.

Mr McCluskey says: “You have now published a timetable to fire and rehire thousands of your workforce on 7 August. We will work every hour between now and then to convince you not to do so.

“You can take this letter as our commitment to do that. However, you can also take this as an intention to defend our members by moving towards industrial action with immediate effect“.

British Airways said the lockdown and halt in travel “is the biggest challenge the airline and our industry has ever faced”.

“It is disappointing that a company doing everything it can to save jobs is being singled out by Unite for national criticism, when jobs are being lost across the country in every industry,” it said in a statement responding to Unite’s letter.

The new contracts make BA competitive with lower-cost airlines, it said. It insists 40% of cabin crew would get a pay rise, while crew suffering cuts would see their basic pay drop by 20%, although they also stand to lose shift pay, meaning drops of around 40% are possible.

“If staff accept the changes to the way they work or their terms and conditions, we expect to be able to save more jobs.”

BA may have reached a cost-saving deal with its pilots, but the confrontation with other employees shows no sign of easing. …

The clear breakdown in trust between BA and its workforce – and the increasingly strident language from the union – seem to make an amicable agreement an unlikely prospect.

Industrial action aka strikes wouldn’t have much effect on BA this time around as the carrier operated on an absolute minimum schedule already.

Unions like to posture through the collective power usually vested in them through their members but this power evaporates when commercial activity is at a standstill (or anywhere near that). As far as airlines are concerned, never before did unions have such little influence as they do right now.

Conclusion

At this particular time it appears the company has the upper hand because the usual bargaining chip of strikes is that stopping work is going to have an extremely costly impact on the company. The Coronavirus has taken this advantage away from them and used it up already. If the company wants to do this then they have to do it now, not when air travel is on it’s way to recovery.

From a purely practical angle this could be a unique opportunity for British Airways to force through their idea of a new employment model for the company without having to fear too many consequences through strike action. Ok the unions might call their members to go on strike but not much will change. Demand for flights has evaporated, operations are already minimal and a possible “second wave” of Covid-19 that’s always being talked about could restrict air travel even more in the months to come.

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