There’s nothing new or unusual in airlines having to deal with more than their fair share of industrial disputes (no wonder Delta Air Lines is going to such extreme lengths to prevent unionisation of its workers) but the unrest at British Airways really does seem to be on another level at the moment.
The carrier is already dealing with a big dispute over pay for pilots, cabin crew and ground staff and now another dispute is brewing at its Gatwick base.
In a memo sent to Gatwick-based cabin crew, the Unite union has told its members that “enough is enough” in a disagreement over working conditions and certain contracts issues. And now cabin crew union members have overwhelmingly supported a new ballot for formal industrial action which may include a strike.
Over 99% of cabin crew who took part in the ballot said they would support an official ballot for industrial action if British Airways fails to deal with a list of contentious issues that the union and airline managers have so far been unable to resolve.
The Gatwick base is very much secondary to BA’s Heathrow stronghold and the airport mainly caters to leisure travellers with short-haul services to popular holiday hotspots, as well as long-haul flights to the Caribbean, Las Vegas and South Africa.
In fact, the Las Vegas route is one of the reasons for the dispute, with cabin crew raising concerns about a plan by airline managers to cut the length of their layover. Over 99% of crew who took part in the latest ballot rejected a plan to give crew just 24-hours rest in Las Vegas, or at other destinations with similar flight times.
Another concern is a plan to remove Duty Free from flights – as cabin crew earn commission from all onboard sales, they’re concerned this change could significantly impact how much they earn.
Other issues include:
- Alleged breaches of a flying agreement
- Limiting the number of cabin crew who are allowed to work on part-time contracts
- Forcing cabin crew to take unpaid leave
- Making cabin crew work in a lower rank than what they are trained
Interestingly, British Airways has reconfigured its Boeing 777 aircraft at Gatwick with a 3-4-3 seating layout in Economy (in part to better compete with discounters like Norwegian) but cabin crew haven’t raised any issues with this change. While the 3-4-3 configuration is becoming the industry norm, British Airways is one of the last airlines to still offer a more generous and roomier 3-3-3 layout on the majority of its 777’s.
When Cathay Pacific also decided to reconfigure its 777’s with the less generous layout, the airline received significant pushback from crew and calls for additional staffing to cater for the increased ratio of passengers.
Negotiations between three separate unions and the airline continue in a wider dispute on pay, conditions and bonuses. So far, proposals put forward by airline managers to end the dispute have been rejected by staff and the threat of another strike is still looming.
Unlike in some countries, British workers don’t have to join a union so this vote may not represent the view of every member of cabin crew based at Gatwick. This latest ballot doesn’t guarantee a strike will take place – a further ballot will need to be held to authorise industrial action but here’s hoping that these issues can be resolved long before it comes to that.
In a statement, British Airways said that both the negotiations and working conditions of cabin crew were “normal practice and well within industry and regulatory standards.”