Ray of light for BA as Unite postpones strike ballot

A new offer by the airline will hopefully give Unite the excuse it needs to cut a deal.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

After talk of a summer of strikes, there’s finally been a bit of movement in the stalemate between British Airways and its cabin crew: the Unite union has said it will postpone a fresh strike ballot to allow its members to consider a new offer by BA's management. Admittedly it's still refusing to actually recommend the offer – but with passengers facing further disruption during BA's peak holiday season, and neither party previously showing any inclination to back down, it's at least a step in the right direction. Hopefully BA's cabin crew will now see sense and agree a compromise deal...

The latest (supposedly final) offer from BA includes guaranteed rises in basic salary for two years from 2011, as well as ‘top-up’ payments to ensure cabin crew get a minimum amount in route allowances. BA boss Willie Walsh, who's now endured 22 days of strikes since March, says the offer represents a ‘genuine opportunity’ to renegotiate with the union. For his part, Unite leader Tony Woodley has said the offer is ‘interesting’ – although since it doesn’t include a full restoration of travel perks (the major bone of contention in recent weeks), he also warned that it's not ‘the breakthrough everyone seeks’.

The trouble is, the cabin crew's position may actually get weaker the longer this goes on. Despite three weeks of almost constant walkouts, BA has used a combination of new crew, trained-up ground staff and non-strikers to man the planes. As a result, eight out of 10 passengers have managed to fly – so the effect has not been quite as crippling as Unite was presumably hoping. Given more time, Walsh might be able to get this number up even higher.
 
However, there is a price to pay for this. An article on the Guardian website this morning by an anonymous BA manager suggest that the removal of ‘hundreds, if not thousands’ of staff from their day jobs in order to work as temporary cabin crew means there’s an increasing backlog of work – which is causing disillusionment among those left running the business. ‘While many proclaim to back BA, the reality is that many managers and staff of all levels are growing increasingly resentful of senior management and the chief executive,’ it says.
 
The long and short of the matter is that a deal is clearly in the best interests of all concerned. The fresh offer by BA is a perfect opportunity for both Woodley and Walsh to compromise on some of the more stubborn issues without either side losing too much face. And until they do, not many of us will be booking a holiday with BA this summer.


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