The rejected deal: What was on offer?

In the furore surrounding the cabin crews decision to take 20 days strike action and the subsequent High Court injunction the details of the last-minute negotiations between Unite and BA management have gone largely unremarked.

The court injunction relates to the February strike re-ballot of cabin crew, in which 81% voted in favour of strike action in a 79% turnout. Subsequently, in May, an overwhelming majority of the cabin crew, 81% in a 71% turnout, voted in an online poll to reject the latest BA management ‘offer’. The Unite negotiators had recommended rejection of the offer. Tony Woodley, Unite joint general secretary, spelt out the reasons for this as being:  “BA had failed to restore travel perks taken away from those who went on strike and disciplinary action was being taken against more than 50 union members”. You can read an outline of the deal and cabin crew’s reasons for rejecting it here.

While these issues were very important reasons for rejecting the deal, other issues should also be cited as reasons. These include the setting up of new fleet on poorer pay and conditions; and changes to the present crews’ redeployment agreement that would make it easier for management to make compulsory redundancies. In other words, many of the original attacks on the cabin crews’ contracts and longer term interests remain in place as far as the BA bosses are concerned. 

It is entirely understandable that cabin crew wish to see a speedy resolution of this dispute. They have been working under the most intense pressure from management for the better part of a year. It is clear from the behaviour of management that their ultimate aim is the destruction of union organisation at the company in order to completely clear out the terms and conditions currently enjoyed by BA workers. At the moment the strategy of management is to defeat cabin crew in a head on confrontation. However, even if management are forced to concede on travel perks and disciplinary action, the latest offer would significantly weaken the union and the terms and conditions of cabin crew.  Then when management inevitably came for the next round of cuts they would be in a stronger position to enforce them. In this way the weakening of the unions at BA could be achieved over a longer timescale than that aimed at by Walsh.  It is preference for this more long-term strategy that is probably at the root of recent criticism of Walsh from City business strategists and rumored splits on the BA board.  The destination is not in question, simply the means to get there.

Other sections of the BA workforce should also take heed of what BA management is demanding. Just as concessions in terms and conditions made by other sections of the workforce are being used as a stick to beat cabin crew, so too will any deal that seriously undermines the terms and conditions of crew form the basis of new cuts for them. In particular changes to trade union facility time and renegotiation of the 1948 Redeployment Agreement would eventually affect every worker at BA.

(We will publish a more in-depth analysis of the 1948 Redeployment Agreement shortly)


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