There’s a time and a place for Twitter, and it’s not slap-bang in the middle of confidential negotiations to avert an airline strike that will cause £100m of disruption. So BA is right to be indignant that Unite boss Derek Simpson spent yesterday telling his Twitter followers what was going on in their last-minute talks. Although neither side is coming out of this dispute very well, that’s the kind of thing that hardens attitudes and prevents a resolution – and the same goes for the idiotic Socialist Workers Party demo that stormed the building yesterday. Is BA boss Willie Walsh right that Unite doesn’t have the will, or possibly the control, to stop these daft strikes?
Simpson managed to tweet about 13 times from his BlackBerry while the talks were happening. That's at best silly, and at worst downright provocative (even if his offerings weren't particularly incendiary - one example being the rather childish: ‘About to make another attempt to persuade Willie Walsh to stop trying for regime change and stop being vindictive’). As well as undermining trust, he also alerted SWP demonstrators to the fact that the two sides were meeting. Walsh, not unreasonably, was livid, telling the BBC that it ‘raises questions’ over how Unite operates. Even Unite's other joint secretary Tony Woodley (who admittedly can't stand Simpson, allegedly) condemned it. Simpson has since offered to apologise.
But regardless of who said what, and who's the biggest Twit, it doesn't change the fact that the two sides still haven't resolved their issues. We're not even sure precisely what the current wrangle is about, exactly; Woodley claims that Unite was willing to postpone the strikes if Walsh reinstated the travel concessions he took away from striking cabin crew, but the latter insists he's already offered that (presumably with a few caveats that the union is unwilling to accept). If you're interested, an anonymous post on the PPRuNe pilots’ forum today claims to reveal BA’s latest offer to Unite. In short: they've clearly come some way towards a reasonable compromise, as Walsh desperately tries to get his operating costs down - but not far enough.
Yet despite the estimated £110m cost of all these strikes - and the unquantifiable damage to BA's reputation of disappointing 20,000 passengers a week, including lots of irate half-term kiddies - Walsh still seems determined to play hardball. BA says it’s still planning to fly 60% of its planes this week – and it's currently reporting a good service from all its airports except Heathrow, with Flightstats suggesting that only nine of the 27 flights due to take off between 11am and midday were cancelled.
The irony is that the £110m BA stands to lose from these strikes is nearly twice as much as it was looking to save with the modernisation plan that caused this dispute in the first place. With more and more people put off booking BA every day, the stakes are getting higher. And neither side seems willing to back down - even though at this rate, there's a good chance that they'll both lose.
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