This Saturday marks the 60th day of strike action by British Airways cabin crew belonging to its so called ‘Mixed Fleet’ branch – and despite some concessions from the airline, there seems little prospect of the bitter and long running dispute ending anytime soon. The situation has become so bad that the Unite union has called a near rolling stretch of strikes until the end of August – at the peak of the British summer getaway.
The latest set of strikes started on 1st July when cabin crew walked out for 16 days. Barely a day later and a 14-day walkout got underway – despite a new pay offer from airline managers. According to sources, the increased offer was welcomed by the union but members rejected the deal over a series of conditions attached to it.
Cabin crew are now in the middle of a 15-day strike and the union has already called a further walkout which is due to take place from the 16th to 30th August – that will also include Britain’s busy August Bank Holiday weekend. The union has said the strikes will go ahead “unless the airline hammers out an agreement” over what it calls “poverty pay” and “the sanctioning of striking workers.”
As a quick reminder, Mixed Fleet cabin crew are relatively new staff and anyone who joined British Airways after 2010 signed up to the Mixed Fleet contract. These newer cabin crew earn significantly less than their older counterparts – in fact, Unite claims Mixed Fleet cabin crew earn even less than the £21,000 that British Airways insists is the minimum average pay.
Unions blames “divisive sanctioning of striking cabin crew”
The dispute started as means for Mixed Fleet crew to earn what British Airways said they should be earning. Unfortunately, things got nasty very quickly. BA was reluctant to give into the union’s demands and started to sanction staff who went on strike – most contentious was the removal of bonuses and staff travel privileges.
Then, airline managers started offering concessions and bonuses to Mixed Fleet cabin crew who broke the strike. The Independent reports that some staff are getting paid £100 for taxi fares as well as a one off £250 bonus to work during the industrial dispute.
Initially, it seemed like British Airways was in this for the long haul – the airline has wet leased nine aircraft from Qatar Airways to operate European routes during the strikes. Cabin crew recruitment has also been stepped up and the idea of offering any further concessions to the union seemed completely unrealistic.
On the surface, disruption is being kept to a minimum
As for passengers, they could be forgiven for not realising a strike was even happening. In fact, a British Airways spokesperson told us: “As we have done in previous periods of industrial action we will ensure our customers reach their destinations.”
The spokesperson continued: “More than three months ago Unite agreed that our pay deal was acceptable but have since refused to ballot their members on it.”
Yet, despite the calm exterior and promise of uninterrupted journey’s, the strike action is still having a big effect on the airline’s operations. The cost to wet lease aircraft is estimated at £5,000 per hour. Expenses are being accrued by cabin crew who turn up for work and flights are running without enough cabin crew to serve customers.
As costs mount, British Airways makes a concession
The airline has been forced to make a concession. Last week, Karen Slinger, the airline’s head of in-flight experience sent an email to staff saying that staff travel privileges would be returned to striking staff. It might not seem like much but many commentators have seen this as a huge concession by British Airways. It wasn’t, however, enough for the union or staff who quickly rejected the offer.
So what’s next? And how is this going to end? Speaking on behalf of the union, Oliver Richardson explained: “The airline needs to get around the negotiating table and start recognising that punishing low paid workers fighting for fairer pay is no way for a ‘premium’ airline to behave.”
“The offer to reinstate travel concessions for striking workers is half-hearted and fails to deal with the money British Airways has taken away from low paid workers. We would urge British Airways to start treating our members fairly and drop the bullying tactics to avoid the escalating cost and disruption that continued industrial and legal action brings.”
What does the union want to bring this to an end?
What exactly, Unite now want’s from the airline is difficult to know. Back in April, British Airways said it would return bonuses to striking staff and now they are offering the travel concession back as well. It has also hammered out a pay deal that the union was apparently happy with.
There have been rumours that Unite thinks it could have got a better pay deal and the latest statement from the union, highlighting the airline’s “massive profits” may back up that claim. For British Airways, having given in on several occasions, it will be difficult to refuse further concessions. Now it just depends on who is willing to give in first.