Update (18th December 2016)
Following the decision by Unite to call strike action on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, British Airways released a strongly worded statement denouncing the strike and confirming that they would do everything to make it fail. The full statement reads:
We are appalled that Unite proposes to disrupt customers’ travel plans on such special days when so many families are trying to gather together or set off on well-deserved holidays.
This calculated and heartless action is completely unnecessary and we are determined that it will fail.
We will plan to ensure that all our customers travel to their destinations so that their Christmas arrangements are not ruined.
Meanwhile, the mood amongst frequent flyers is swinging in favour of the workers caught up in this dispute with many arguing that new cabin crew should earn a decent, living wage.
On the 14th December, it was announced that cabin crew from the ‘Mixed Fleet’ branch at British Airways had voted in favour of strike action.
The union which represents these workers, Unite the union, claimed that 79% of balloted members backed the call for strikes. The dispute centres over a long-running fight between British Airways and it’s Mixed Fleet workers over pay and conditions.
2,500 cabin crew who are represented by Unite could go on strike from 21st December in one of the busiest weeks for the London based airline.
For its part, British Airways has offered staff a 2% pay raise and claim that the remuneration package for their cabin crew is comparable with other airlines throughout Europe.
Is British Airways misleading cabin crew recruits?
However, Unite has warned potential recruits that British Airways is misleading them about their earning potential. The starting salary for a new member of cabin crew is advertised at between £21,000 to £25,000 on the BA Careers website. But Unite thinks that the airline should come clean and tell potential crew that the real salary is just £12,000 with a supplemental £3 an hour flying pay.
Matt Smith, a Regional Officer for Unite was quoted as saying: “Mixed fleet crew earn just over the minimum wage and below the national average. Significant numbers of crew are taking on second jobs, many go to work unfit to fly because they can’t afford to be sick”.
He also raised concerns about the long-term effects and safety issues for crew on the Mixed Fleet contract: “Crew simply can’t afford to stay. Inexperience, fatigue, and the fact that BA recently cut the length of crew training courses means Unite is genuinely concerned about the potential repercussions.”
British Airways has form for breaking strikes
But it’s unlikely that British Airways will back down in this continuing dispute. The last cabin crew strike at BA in 2009 and 2010 led to a total of 20 days of strike action that cost the company £150 million.
British Airways remained resolute throughout this action and eventually settled the dispute mainly on their terms.
Any new strike will have little effect on schedules
In the 2009/2010 strikes, workers on generous pay packages could afford to strike. The question is whether Mixed Fleet crew will have the appetite to strike when it directly affects their already low monthly pay.
And it’s unlikely that management at the airline will be making any major concessions for such a small proportion of the workforce.
Mixed Fleet cabin crew currently operate just 15% of routes based out of Heathrow Airport in West London.
Out of a total of 15,000 crew the union only represents 2,500 members. Out of all crew working on the Mixed Fleet contract only half are represented by Unite and just 60% of those members even cast a ballot.
It would appear that the union has little leverage in this dispute in what has been a turbulent year for labour relations amongst a host of airlines throughout Europe.
Recruitment for British Airways Mixed Fleet crew is currently closed. However, the airline is still inviting applications for BA CityFlyer crew based at London City Airport. The last date of application is 29th December 2016.
Photo Credit: British Airways