Pay negotiations between British Airways and a number of different workgroups, including pilots, cabin crew, engineers and gate agents, have been ongoing since November 2018. Three trade unions came together for the very first time to submit a joint pay claim in a bid to win a better deal from the airline.
At the time, the unions said staff deserved to share in the recent financial success that the IAG-owned British Airways is enjoying and that the airline had to change it’s permanent cost-cutting approach to wage negotiations.
Those negotiations haven’t been easy and for a while, it really did look like there could be a mass-walkout at the height of the Summer holidays. As it stands, pilots represented by the BALPA trade union are currently being balloted on strike action, while a breakthrough in negotiations has staved off the prospect of ground staff taking industrial action as well.
We also thought the ‘final offer’ pay deal had appeased the union which represents cabin crew and a number of sources said that the offer had been accepted. We now know that isn’t entirely true…
Here’s a quick explainer – British Airways has four main ‘fleets’ of cabin crew:
- Worldwide – who only operate long-haul flights and are based at Heathrow airport
- Eurofleet – who only operate short-haul flights
- Mixed Fleet – operate both long and short-haul flights but are paid less than Worldwide and Eurofleet crew
- Gatwick crew – operate both long and short-haul flights out of Gatwick airport
The unions who represent Worldwide, Eurofleet and Gatwick crew are recommending the pay deal that was tabled at the end of June. A ballot is currently underway and it’s expected that the majority of cabin crew will vote in favour of the deal.
However, the lower paid Mixed Fleet crew who were introduced by British Airways in 2010 after a painful strike by the Worldwide fleet are now voting to go on strike. It looks like this is what’s referred to as a ‘consultative ballot’ – as such, it doesn’t carry any legal weight but will indicate whether there’s broad support for industrial action and could be used as a bargaining tool with the airline.
The ballot was only sent out on Friday evening and is set to close on Monday so obviously, the union is moving really quickly on this. If cabin crew back a strike then a legally binding ballot could then follow in quick succession.
The legally binding ballot being held by BA’s pilots is set to close on 22nd July and if approved (and that’s what everyone thinks will happen) then strike action could begin as early at 5th August. In the last week, mediation talks between the pilots union and British Airways broke down but the airline says they are ready and willing to begin discussions at any time.
A separate threat by Heathrow workers
This news probably couldn’t come at a worse time for travellers – yesterday, the Unite union announced separate strike action by staff employed by Heathrow Airport, including security screening staff, engineers and passenger service operatives in a dispute over pay and conditions.
Up to 4,000 workers could stage walkouts on the 26th July and 27th July, as well as the 5th August and 6th August, and 23rd August and 24th August. The Unite union says the action will “shut down” the airport although Heathrow claims to have contingency plans in place to keep the airport operating.
British Airways is offering an 11.5% pay rise over three years, although Mixed Fleet cabin crew are now asking for a 15% raise and the inclusion of onboard managers in any deal. It’s worth mentioning that the pay rise only applies to basic pay – however, cabin crew normally rely on a number of different allowances to boost their pay so this deal might not be worth as much as what the headline figure looks like.
In 2017, Mixed Fleet cabin crew staged weeks of strike action over “poverty pay” claims – that dispute was eventually settled but it looks like there’s still concern that the lower paid crew aren’t yet being paid a fair wage.
What’s the potential impact?
That’s the big unknown at the moment – a similar ballot was held by cabin crew earlier this year and then a deal was eventually found for most cabin crew. Meanwhile, even if a deal can be found for Mixed Fleet crew before a potential walkout, there’s still the question of whether pilots will go on strike. And even if BA manages to avert strikes by its own staff, the airline could still be hit by stoppages from Heathrow-employed staffers.
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.