British Airways – What’s really going on?

British Airways (BA) has announced that 1,700 jobs will go amongst cabin crew. 1,000 workers will take voluntary redundancy and a further 3,000 will move to part time work.

BA has informed staff that additional cabin crew will be employed on terms and conditions inferior to those who will lose their jobs. This will be done by placing new entrants into a “New Fleet”. Cabin Crew basic pay is quite low but is then made up by allowances. The amount a member of Cabin Crew receives depends on the route they work on. So routes from London to Los Angeles or Tokyo pay higher allowances than routes from London to Rome. If the “New Fleet” is imposed on cabin crew, receiving smaller allowance they will be the ones chosen to fly the long haul routes while the “Old Fleet” will get the shorter routes. For many existing Cabin Crew this will amount to a pay cut of up to one third.

It is clear BA is attempting to push through a restructuring campaign, first through cabin crew and later to the rest of the company by reducing staff, increasing workload and driving down wages and conditions.

BA has pleaded that it is in the middle of a financial crisis and that the airline industry is showing no sign of recovery. This March they claimed they had lost £401 million over the previous year. However sources within BA have informed The Socialist that BA is in fact sitting on a £1 billion cash reserve.

This is not counted as an asset by a simple accounting trick. BA claims this money must be reserved in case the company goes bust overnight and is thereby liable for some arbitrarily selected number of potential customers it would have to pay back. In the real world no airline has ever gone bust over night. The rhetoric from the likes of Walsh is quite simply a con trick to create a false sense of crisis in order to force staff into accepting inferior pay and working conditions similar to those on offer at Ryanair or Easyjet.

BA is also angling to buy BMI in order to get its flight slots at Heathrow and will merge with Iberia to create the largest global airline operator. These are not the actions of a company one day from crisis and liquidation.

BA’s main aim is to come out of the industry crisis as a super profitable global giant through mergers and buy outs of its rivals and attacking the wages and conditions of its workforce. So while staff work longer hours for less pay in an atmosphere of permanent insecurity, Willie Walsh and BA shareholders will be laughing all the way to the bank thanks to juicy bonuses and dividends.

Historically BA workers have been one of the best organised workforces in the country. Union density is very high with a long tradition of militant struggle. This has meant BA workers have managed to hold on to many of the concessions workers wrung from employers and government in the period of 1945-1972.

The centerpiece of this is the 1948 agreement (also known as the Redeployment Agreement). Under this agreement there can be no compulsory redundancies. If a job is abolished, then a worker has the right to be transferred to another job on the same pay with the same pay progression as his or her original job.

What this means in practice is that a worker’s pay, and therefore their pensions, can only go up. Workers at Ryanair or Easyjet can only dream of such conditions. Naturally BA management hates this agreement and views the union activists who defend it much the same way a snake views a mongoose.

Since BA was privatised in 1987 the over-riding mission of BA management has been to smash the 1948 agreement and bring the unions to heel.

Tearing up the agreement is one thing, enforcing it on the workforce quite another. Unfortunately BA management has used the crisis in the industry to force national union leaders into accepting fundamental change in the way BA conducts industrial relations.

Three unions are present at BA – Unite (divided into T&G and Amicus sections), BALPA (representing pilots) and GMB. For industrial relations purposes the workforce is divided into six National Sectional Panels or NSPs. These are loading/ramp, administration, cabin crew, engineering, pilots and management. Each union nominates reps, in proportion to their strength among the workforce in an NSP, to negotiate with management of their section.

BA would find it very difficult to face down sustained united action by all the unions together. Management’s strategy therefore is to carry out isolated attacks on different sections of the workforce. They try to probe for weakness among one section and use whatever inferior terms are enforced as a tool to drive down conditions in the rest of the company. So the attack on cabin crew is a provocation in a wider war against the 1948 agreement.

Cabin crew should not be left to face this attack alone. The national officers of all the BA unions should issue a joint statement opposing any change to the 1948 agreement and pledging mutual support for any action taken to defend it. But BA workers should not simply rely on action by national union leaders. It will be their willingness to get organised and fight that will decide the future of the 1948 agreement.

There is an urgent need to set up a joint shop stewards committee of the most senior reps to co-ordinate united resistance to any attacks by management on the agreement.

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7 Comments

  1. BA have said today that any staff that go on strike will permanently lose all their travel perks – i.e. 90% discounts on flights. BA are also saying they will down grade staff’s overnight accomadation when it’s necessay for staff to be away while working.

    This is blatant imtimadation of staff ahead of the latest strike ballot – cabin crew must respond with another huge vote in taking action.

  2. All grades of staff in BA (craft side) conditions were won from bad practices that management were pushing which lost money. Also how many years have BA been given a ‘Pension Holiday’ were has that savings gone too? Not only the cabin crew could loose out but other trade union members.

  3. There are so many inaccuracies in this article it is laughable.

  4. Well there’s no premium on words in this blog. Your welcome to correct them if you can.

  5. I believe I am the only parliamentary candidate so far who fully supports the BA Cabin Crews in their dispute with BA. If there is anything I can do to help, please contact me through my website.

  6. the only candidate in Spelthorne.


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