Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BA dispute – Pride and promises

I did not think I would be commenting on this subject again but, instead of fading into apathy and compromise it is back again. BA made another of its final offers and the union involved was expected to ballot the cabin crew. But the unions did an about turn and has delayed the ballot despite admitting that it was the best deal they could achieve through negotiation. Why? Because I believe they think it would be too damaging for the union.

The crazy thing is that the main disagreements that caused the strike have mainly gone away in that BA has won the essential core of disputed issues. All that is left is the argument concerning staff travel perks. What is the problem? Well, in précis BA gave advance notice that all striking cabin crew would lose these perks. From what I understand the union went to the crew and told them to take no notice as they would get the concessions back for them within the dispute settlement. Partly on this basis enough of the crew voted to strike.

We now have a very large, proud and, in my view, arrogant union that promised something they are having difficulty delivering. Initially BA said a firm no to any kind of renewal of perks to strikers. They pointed out that they told the union at the time they would not move on this once the discounts were forfeited. This silly issue involving a reasonably small number of cabin crew now reached a disproportionate level of intensity purely because the union had dug itself a big negotiating hole and jumped in it. A perfect example of the expression ‘pride comes before a fall’.

And then BA relented. Well, not exactly relented but at least came up with a compromise of sorts. They offered to give the perks back to strikers. But there is a catch as they were not going to give this up for nothing further in return. BA have demanded a guarantee of no industrial action for at least 3 years and also any current legal action by the unions to be stopped.

They then went further to say all strikers would lose their seniority status for these discount and standby tickets until 2013. This is quite ‘serious’ as seniority and years served determines where you are in the queue for these tickets. To places like Barbados there can be scores of crew standing by. In fact, on one memorable occasion BA had to send a 747 to Barbados purely to pick up stranded standby staff. The strikers do not want to lose their status but BA knows that this is the only thing they can do to appease all those majority of staff who did not strike. After all these loyal staff would be pretty mad if they saw the strikers getting away with it by winning this point.

So, the soap opera continues. The argument that led to the strike have to a great extent gone. Instead a bi-product of the negotiations may cause yet another strike possibly some time in March 2011. At least Christmas is safe…I think. The union will ultimately ballot the staff once more but will not recommend the latest BA offer which they are now saying is “a step too far.” This sounds a bit different to their earlier comment about it being “the very best available through negotiation”.

What a fuss over a few cheap staff tickets. However daft I do not see where resolution will come from without a major and damaging stand down by the union. They know that this is no longer really about tickets. It is about the credibility of the union movement in the UK. What a mighty hole they dug for themselves over such an unimportant argument

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