The boss of British Airways’ parent company has signalled frustration at not being able to get directly involved in negotiations over a long-running dispute between pilots and the airline on pay and conditions. And even worse, Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) has indicated that he’s not particularly impressed with how the airline’s current management – headed by Alex Cruz – is currently handling the negotiations.
Speaking with the media yesterday, Walsh said there was a “deal to be done” and that it was “frustrating for me at times” not to be able to get involved in the talks. Back in August, Walsh said at an investors update meeting that the issues between British Airways and its pilots were for Alex Cruz to sort out and that he would not be getting involved.
Cruz has repeatedly said that he is not involved in day-to-day negotiations with the BALPA pilots union. But that now seems to be a policy that Walsh isn’t so sure about – encouraging the British Airways “management team to get involved” and claiming there had been “failings on both sides” in negotiations to date.
“I probably understand their (the pilots) issues better because I used to be a pilot,” explained Walsh. “If I were there (at British Airways) I would probably want to address those.”
Walsh started as a pilot at Aer Lingus and quickly rose through the management ranks during the 1980s and 1990s. When he was elevated to Chief Executive of the Irish flag carrier, an early decision to axe 2,500 pilot jobs earned him the nickname as “Slasher Walsh”.
He joined British Airways in 2005 where he slashed costs and later attempted to take on the cabin crew unions who responded with crippling strike action. When British Airways and Iberia decided to merge in 2011, Walsh then became chief executive of the newly-formed parent company, IAG. He says that the way in which the company is structured means he can no longer get involved in the day-to-day business at the individual airline brands.
Negotiations between British Airways and its pilots have been dragging on for nearly a year. Pilots have rejected the airline’s final pay offer and downed tools for the first time in over 40-years for a 48-hour strike in September. The action is estimated to have cost British Airways €137 million after 4,521 flights were cancelled as a direct response to the strikes.
A third planned day of strike action at the end of September was called off by the union in an attempt to restart talks but the latest information from the airline and IAG suggests the two sides have still not got back round the negotiating table.
While the recent collapse of the Thomas Cook airline brand in the UK is said to have diverted the attention of union officials, Walsh is clearly getting frustrated at the continuing uncertainty and lack of progress.