On Monday morning, pilots employed by British Airways and represented by the BALPA trade union went on strike for the very first time in the airline’s history. British Airways has been forced to slash pretty much its entire schedule for the 48-hour walkout – up to 300,000 passengers have been affected and another 24-hour strike is pencilled in for 27th September.
There’s talk of even more dates being announced at any moment. Each day of strike action is estimated to be costing British Airways up to £40 million, although the airline doesn’t show any signs of caving into the pilot’s demands for even more money.
British Airways describes its proposal as “fair” – it has offered an 11.5% pay rise spread over three years. The deal has already been implemented for cabin crew and ground staff. Alex Cruz, BA’s embattled chief executive has described his pilots as the best in the world but claims they are being let down by their union.
A number of media outlets have focused on the generous remuneration package that British Airways pilots already enjoy. Some Captain’s are earning around £200,000 – although, new hire ‘cadet’ pilots are said to be on just £27,000 plus allowances, while a First Officer can expect to initially earn £59,000 and a newly qualified Captain would earn £79,000 a year.
Obviously, BA’s pilots are already earning significantly more than the airline’s cabin crew and ground staff – prompting some observers to describe them as greedy. But is this dispute just about money?
“The pay dispute is simply a mechanism to strike…”
If you believe Brian Strutton, general secretary of the BALPA union, then the pay dispute is simply a mechanism to strike and call out British Airways over far bigger issues – the same kind of issues that frustrate and annoy passengers.
Commenting on the fact that 90% of pilots backed strike action, Stutton told left-leaning newspaper The Guardian: “Almost all of its pilots wanted to go on strike… You’ve got to look at what the company is doing to generate that level of ill-feeling among their staff.”
In response to allegations that pilots have been let down by BALPA, the union leader says Alex Cruz has only made the situation worse:
“It’s the pilots pushing the union rather than the other way round…
Pilots are logical thinkers, they are not going to be led by the nose, no union leader is going to whip them up. Only management has the ability to do that. Communications from Álex Cruz have made pilots more angry, not less.”
Strutton points the finger directly at the airline’s long-running cost-cutting campaign for the support for a strike:
“There are a lot of factors. BA pilots have lost confidence in the management and direction of the airline. A cost-cutting regime has reduced the quality of the service pilots want to give to the customers, as well as affecting themselves. The cumulative effect is a serious groundswell of bad feeling.”
While BA’s current leadership team are also caught in the union’s crosshairs:
“Management decisions are being taken that impinge on the working lives and quality of service that pilots and BA staff can deliver. They feel that quality should be the ethos of BA, and they don’t think that it is.”
A pilot who spoke to the newspaper under condition of anonymity claimed pilots were becoming disenfranchised because of “day-to-day gripes associated with cost-cutting.”
In a statement published on its website, British Airways said it was ready and willing to hold further “constructive” talks with BALPA as long as there were no pre-conditions attached.