Unite calls off BAA strikes

It looks like the peace talks paid off. But it's shown us how powerful BAA is.

Last Updated: 24 Mar 2011

Things finally seem to be looking up for the British airline industry, after airport operator BAA announced that it has reached an agreement with the Unite union. The union had threatened strikes that could have closed six of the UK’s busiest airports, including Heathrow, Edinburgh and Glasgow, over the August bank holiday after it rejected a ‘measly’ 1.5% pay offer from BAA. But the two parties have apparently managed to thrash out a deal during nine-hour talks at conciliation service ACAS. Strap on those espadrilles: it looks like our holidays are saved.

It’s going to come as a relief for embattled travellers, whose holiday plans becoming decidedly precarious. BAA workers including security staff and fire fighters had voted for the strike over a pay offer from the company, which guaranteed a 1% rise, with another 0.5%, as long as unions approved changes to the company’s sickness agreement. But union members weren’t impressed and demanded something closer to 2.5%, arguing that they had had to endure a pay freeze last year. Both sides seemed to keen to hit the negotiating table as quickly as possible, though – perhaps conscious that to British travellers, closing six of the country’s busiest airports may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We’re not entirely out of the hot water yet, though: before it can call off the strikes entirely, Unite will have to ballot its members on the deal. But things seem fairly positive – Unite national officer Brian Boyd has said the union will be ‘recommending’ the deal to members. Even BAA seems to be happy with it – director Terry Morgan was positively aglow when he said ‘it’s a deal that is a fair reward for our staff, but it’s also a deal that the company can afford’. Still, according to the union, balloting will take about three weeks – so we won’t know for sure whether the strikes are off until then.

It might have narrowly avoided disaster, but the situation is going to call into question the sheer size of BAA, which has already been forced by the Competition Commission to sell up three of its biggest airports. While the Spanish-owned company found a buyer for Gatwick more or less immediately, it has yet to offload Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow. But having made losses of £277m on the Gatwick sale, we can’t imagine BAA is in any hurry to make the last two sales. Not great news for customers.

And the dispute hasn’t done much for BAA’s record as an employer, either: the fact that a dispute that’s been rumbling on for months was solved in nine hours of talks is an indication that BAA may not have been taking its workers’ requests as seriously as it should have.

For now, though, there is at least hope on the horizon for an industry that has already been decimated by a combination of recession, strikes and volcanoes. Let’s just hope this run of good luck can carry on…

In today's bulletin:
Inflation slips back toward 2% target
Unite calls off BAA strikes
General Motors to float, one year after bankruptcy
Small firms need cash incentives to go green, says FSB
Time to turf out boring meetings?

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