Hope for BA row as travel perks reinstated (ish)

BA's latest concessions on travel perks may finally pave the way for a resolution of its cabin crew dispute...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Finally, what looks like a breakthrough in the long-running dispute between BA and its cabin crew: the airline has agreed to make some concessions over travel perks for striking workers, one of the only things still standing in the way of a peace deal. OK, so it doesn't amount to a full restoration of perks, as the union wanted - in fact, it sounds like the strikers will only get them back in full if they're on the best behaviour for three whole years. But it's still a significant softening of management's previous stance. Surely now the unions can meet them somewhere in the middle and put an end to this ridiculously self-defeating row?

This dispute started off being about redundancies and changes to terms and conditions of unemployment. But, 22 days of strikes later, it seems to be just as much about the extent to which BA is punishing those who walked out on strike, via disciplinary measures and the removal of travel perks. Now it's true that these are pretty tasty perks we're talking about; it can mean BA staff get as much as 90% off the cost of flights. But there must be something wrong if the main things they're arguing about are the consequences of previous strikes, as opposed to the original point at issue.

Previously, BA's combative CEO Willie Walsh has played hardball over the perks, insisting they wouldn't be reinstated. But now he's decided to (partially) restore them from October 26. Admittedly there a couple of major caveats. For one, striking staff were effectively put to the back of the queue for perks, so they'd no longer get first dibs on cheap flights - and BA says their 'seniority' will only be restored if they behave impeccably for the next three years. So many will still lose out in the short term. And the whole thing is conditional on Unite not taking BA to court, as it's threatened to do in the past.

So it's not exactly a complete surrender by BA. But it is a big step in the right direction, and it will mean that (eventually) all the strikers could get their perks back in full. BA said today it was a 'a fair deal' and 'a genuine solution to the remaining issues in this dispute' - and hopefully so it will prove. Unite says it will ballot its members as soon as possible; and for once it's making fairly positive noises, with Tony Woodley saying that 'representatives agreed that [the deal on the table] is the best that can be achieved through negotiation in the current climate.' Let's hope this does turn out to be a critical moment, for all their sakes.

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