Pilots at British Airways are threatening to wreak travel chaos without actually going on strike by ‘working to rule’ and doing no more than the bare minimum that is contractually required as a pay dispute over pandemic-era pay cuts continues to escalate.
As part of measures designed to save pilot jobs at the height of the pandemic, BA’s pilots agreed to pay cuts with a percentage diverted into a cash ‘pot’ to pay pilots who were surplus to requirements and who would otherwise have faced unemployment.
The emergency measure, which was brokered by the BALPA pilots union, helped British Airways get through the pandemic with very few forced pilot redundancies. Once travel restrictions were lifted earlier this year, the airline was able to quickly scale up its pilot numbers.
But with BA’s parent company boasting that it expects to swing to a healthy profit by the end of this year, pilots are said to be furious that the airline has no plans to reverse the pay cuts despite the fact that the entire pilot workforce is now back at work.
Even with all available pilots back at work and BA’s schedules trimmed due to staffing shortages in other departments, the airline is still said to be relying on pilots working voluntary overtime to keep its planes in the air.
A ‘work to rule’ protest would see pilots refuse voluntary overtime and strictly enforce other contractual rules and agreements that might normally be overlooked or tweaked in order to keep the operation from grinding to a halt.
There is said to be a widespread sense of irritation over the continuing pandemic-era pay cuts given the fact that British Airways has negotiated pay rises with cabin crew and most ground employees. Chief executive Sean Doyle has faced internal criticism for refusing to acknowledge or address the anger felt by pilots.
A spokesperson for British Airways says the airline has already offered pilots a 5 per cent payment earlier this year and said it is working closely with the BALPA pilots union in a bid to “jointly find a way forward”.
An initial pay cut of 20 per cent has since been reduced to 8 per cent, but BA doesn’t plan to reverse the cuts or address the cost of living crisis for pilots until 2023 at the earliest.
In 2019, pilots staged a rare two-day strike that cost the airline more than €137 million and resulted in at least 2,325 cancelled flights. It was the first strike by pilots at the airline for more than 40 years.
“It’s clear from our actions we remain committed to working with the unions that represent our people, and that we do want colleagues to benefit as our business recovers from the pandemic,” the airline said in an emailed statement.
“We were able to offer our pilots a 5% payment earlier this year, and we’re hearing their concerns and working closely with their union, BALPA to jointly find a way forward,” the statement continued.
BALPA did not comment on what progress had been made in negotiations.
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.