Bad news for British Airways: after last-minute talks failed to yield a breakthrough, Unite said today that cabin crew would stage two separate strikes in the run-up to Easter – they’ll walk out for three days on March 20, and another four days on March 27. So they’ll be back in time for the Easter weekend, although that won’t be much consolation to people hoping to jet off before that (to take advantage of the school holidays, for instance). It’s not quite done and dusted yet – cabin crew are being balloted on BA’s latest offer, and if they choose to accept it, the strikes will be called off. Let’s hope they do, because we still can’t see how this does anyone any good.
There was some faint hope that strike action might be averted after another round of talks this week, chaired by TUC boss Brendan Barber. However, it sounds like the two sides remain some way apart: Unite’s latest proposals, which apparently included a 2.6% pay cut, were rejected by BA as being ‘significantly short’ of the cost-saving it needs to make. The last hope now is a revised offer from BA boss Willie Walsh, which Unite has promised to take to its 12,000 members – and since the result would arrive before the start of the first strike, it would still be in time to stop this self-destructive action.
Part of the problem for the union is that BA’s management is in a relatively strong position. Walsh has had 1,000 volunteers from elsewhere on the BA roster trained up to take the place of the cabin crew when they walk out, as well as chartering 23 extra (fully-crewed) plans. So he reckons he can minimise the disruption to the timetable. And in the longer term, it’s hard to argue against his central claim: that BA needs to cut its costs to become more competitive.
It’s also hard to see what the strikes will achieve. Walsh insists the changes won’t be reversed, so all it will probably do is alienate public support and cost BA more money that needs to be trimmed from the cost base. It will also do significant damage to BA’s brand; even if Walsh succeeds in keeping most of his flights airborne, it’s still going to put people off flying BA any time soon when there are so many less complicated options to choose from.
To be honest, we wouldn’t be surprised if – for all the above reasons – Unite is equally keen to avoid a strike. It certainly seems to have adopted a more conciliatory tone lately, and by taking this offer to its members, it’s giving them an easy opt-out. They’d be well-advised to take it.
In today's bulletin:
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BA staff to strike for seven days before Easter
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