In what appears to be a stunning display of corporate arrogance, the chief executive of the company that owns British Airways says he “formally rejects” the findings of a Parliamentary select committee that labelled the airline a “national disgrace”. Willie Walsh, head of the Madrid-based International Airlines Group (IAG) reiterated that what the airline was proposing to do to workers terms and conditions was “perfectly lawful” and insisted trade unions had betrayed their members.
British Airways is accused of seeking to fire 12,000 employees and slash the wages of some workers who remain by more than 50 per cent. Unions representing cabin crew and ground staff have refused to meet with the airline over what they describe as a “fire and rehire” clause that would see every single member of staff sacked if they don’t agree to the sweeping changes to their terms and conditions.
The BALPA pilots union has been negotiating with British Airways but Brian Strutton, the union’s general secretary has warned those talks are now “hanging by a thread” and that the union can no longer trust the airline. The Unite and GMB unions say they desperately want to negotiate but insist the ‘fire and rehire’ clause must be dropped first.
In a report published on Saturday, lawmakers acknowledged that what British Airways had proposed was lawful but said its actions “falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis.”
“It is unacceptable that a company would seek to drive this level of change under the cover of a pandemic,” concluded the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Huw Merriman.
In response to those official findings, Walsh has now penned an open letter to the committee saying he “formally rejects” the report.
“The approach that British Airways is taking is in full compliance with the law and has been used by numerous employers for many years,” Walsh wrote. “Considering this, your criticism is unjustified. The people working at British Airways are indeed passionate about the company and want it to succeed. I genuinely believe they want to help but they have been betrayed by their trade union leaders and their elected representatives who have refused to engage in consultations from the outset. The truth is, indeed, rarely pure and never simple,” he continued.
“British Airways is mired in the deepest crisis the company has ever faced and is acting in a perfectly lawful manner. British Airways is fighting for its survival, the face of overwhelming and unprecedented challenges, while respecting the fundamental British value of the rule of law.”
“This is not a disgrace,” Walsh blasted. “Lying down and surrendering without a fight would be a disgrace and we will not do that.”
And Walsh again hit out at the British government for introducing a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving in the UK, using it as evidence to suggest lawmakers “have no plans to help the (aviation) sector restart and recover”.
But a 14-day quarantine may soon be the last of Walsh’s problems as unions fire back in the increasingly ugly dispute. On Tuesday, the Unite union said it was preparing to ballot members over possible strike action which really could “torpedo” any restart plans as Walsh has said of the quarantine order.
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.