Cabin crew at Virgin Atlantic are being balloted on their desire to start industrial action against the Crawley-based airline in a dispute over pay and conditions. Last month, crew rejected a two-year pay deal that would have seen basic wages rise by more than 5% over the next 18-months. The problem, is that cabin crew rely mainly on ad diem allowances rather than their basic salary and these payments covered by the pay deal.
The airline and the Unite trade union had been locked in talks to secure a pay dea for several months before negotiations broke down in April. At the heart of the dispute are the tax-free allowances – It’s believed Virgin has been forced to significantly alter these payments because the airline failed several audits by tax authorities.
While the ad diem payments were meant to be used for food and drink during international layovers, many crew used any leftover cash to top up their wages. Some estimates suggest Virgin Atlantic cabin crew could lose as much as £7,500 per year in ad diem allowances when the system is changed later this year.
There was even some concern that despite the offered pay rise, annual wages would drop below the UK’s national minimum wage.
The ballot is just the first stage on a long road to industrial action which would most likely include strikes. This first ballot will gauge the desire of crew for industrial action and if a majority vote in favour, a second ballot would have to be held to authorise a strike.
Virgin Atlantic most certainly isn’t the only airline facing cabin crew strikes this summer:
- British Airways faces strike action not only by cabin crew but also ground crew, engineers and even pilots over a dispute about pay and conditions – the three unions involved in that dispute are said to be drawing up plans that will likely include a strike ballot.
- Air France could also be hit by strikes after unions learned of a government plan to raise their pension age – the trade unions have demanded Air France press the government to withdraw the proposal or strikes could begin within weeks.
- Lufthansa is also facing rising industrial tension amongst cabin crew who are unhappy with efficiency savings being implemented by the airline. That dispute is a long way off from a strike but the two sides don’t seem to be moving towards a peaceful resolution at the moment.
It’s likely that union officials are still trying to negotiate with Virgin Atlantic bosses to avert the need for strike action but the airline did previously indicate that the rejected offer was final and could be withdrawn. A previous ballot of cabin crew on the pay deal didn’t gain a great turnout, so the trade union will no doubt be hoping that more crew make cast a vote on this occasion if they are to have any mandate going forward.