An incredibly bitter dispute over pay and conditions which has seen cabin crew working for British Airways walk out for 73 days in the last year could finally be drawing to a close. That’s if a new pay deal hammered out between the airline and the cabin crew workers union is agreed upon by members in a ballot to be held soon.
Details emerged over the weekend from serving BA cabin crew about the new pay deal – which actually isn’t much different to a previously agreed deal we reported on earlier this year. The main difference, however, is a softening of the airline’s stance towards cabin crew who took part in the strike action.
The Unite union which represents cabin belonging working on BA’s ‘Mixed Fleet’ contract originally announced a ballot for strike action in November 2016. The union accused British Airways of paying its staff ‘poverty pay‘. They claimed cabin crew could expect to only earn £16,000 per year – way below BA’s promise of £21,000 to £25,000 per year.
“It should be to the company’s eternal shame that they, the UK’s national carrier, are making billions while their cabin crew responsible for maintaining a safe environment are working while sick and without adequate rest,” commented Unite regional officer Matt Smith at the time of the ballot.
The union had already rejected a pay offer of a 2% pay raise, saying it did nothing “to address pitiful pay levels which are causing dedicated crew real hardship.”
Nine periods of strikes in little over eight months
With a majority of union members voting for strike action, the union originally called the first strikes for Christmas Day and Boxing Day 2016 (25th – 26th December) although this was cancelled at the last minute amid a public backlash over the union’s threat to disrupt the holiday plans of innocent families caught up in the dispute.
Since then, however, cabin crew have walked out on approximately nine occasions in little over eight months:
- 10th – 11th January 2017 –
- 19th – 21st January 2017
- 5th – 11th February 2017
- 17th – 20th February 2017
- 3rd – 10th March 2017
- 16th – 19th June
- 1st – 16th July 2017
- 19th July – 1st August 2017
- 2nd August – 15th August 2017
In BA’s attempts to bring the strikes to an end by ‘sanctioning‘ workers through the removal of staff travel privileges and bonus payments, the airline only seemed to cause ever more strike action.
As the dispute wore on British Airways was forced to wet lease aircraft from Qatar Airways in order to keep its schedule intact. The union claimed the cost was setting back BA millions of pounds a day – money they said would be better spent on improving the pay and conditions for its cabin crew.
What’s now being offered?
We’ve now seen details of a new deal which has been agreed upon by both sides in secret meetings that have taken place over the last few weeks. The majority of the deal is similar to before:
- A small increase in basic pay from around £13,600 to £14,000
- Elapsed Hourly Rate (paid per hour from check-in to arrival back at base) to increase from £3 to £3.14 an hour.
- A new overnight allowance for any period that goes past midnight – Set at £10 per day for overseas trips and £5 per day for UK-based layovers.
British Airways has also agreed to review the way it pays allowances to cabin crew and says that process should be complete by early next year. The problem, the union says, is that the current system increases the staff members tax burden and doesn’t account for variances in the cost of living around the world.
That might mean BA introduces a system like Virgin Atlantic who issue their cabin crew with a tax-free pre-paid card. Or perhaps Etihad Airways, who pay allowances based on the cost of living in different countries.
British Airways offers sweetener to encourage acceptance
But the real sweetener for cabin crew to accept the pay offer will be an unconditional offer to return heavily discounted staff travel tickets and bonus payments. Oh, and we’re even led to believe the pay offer will be backdated.
According to a source within the airline who spoke to us under the condition of anonymity, it’s still too early to say whether cabin crew will accept the revised offer. Yet many believe the strike action has lost momentum and the offer of a healthy pre-Christmas bonus could be enough to lure enough staff to accept whats on the table.
The next issue for British Airways will be an upcoming battle over the airline’s plan to close its current pension scheme for all employees. Both the Unite and GMB unions released a joint statement saying they must “express on behalf of our members and in the strongest possible terms, both our dismay and bitter disappointment at the news that British Airways has announced its intention to close its main pension scheme.”
And this dispute could suck in many more employees across all divisions of the airline. Expect more travel woes for British Airways passengers on the horizon.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.