The current battle between the trade union Unite and British Airways (BA) over security of jobs, pay and work conditions is unfortunately still very much a battle.
After what has been a gruelling year of disputes, Unite have decided to take a vote of industrial action, the results of which we will know by the Wednesday the 17th March.
If this vote should be in favour of industrial action, Unite will proceed with their plans to strike. This will take the form of 7 days worth of stoppages to the aviation service provided by its members. 13,500 members of one of the biggest trade unions will stop work. The first stoppage will take place on the 20th of March and will last for a period of three days. The second is due to go ahead on the 27th March and will last for four days. There is further strike action to start from the 13th of April should a deal not be arranged prior to then. Unite have stated that there will not be any disruption to the service of the Easter period. Although, there are chances we could see the delays affecting the Easter holidays taken by schools.
BA has found itself up against a Union which has previously been successful in campaigns against the Burke group in Europe, along with many a success in various other fields. B.A have planned ahead to try and cause as little disruption as possible. This includes the training of 1,000 volunteers to take the place of cabin crew and even pilots during the strikes. This is said to ensure that mostly all long haul flights operating from London City, Gatwick and Heathrow are not affected. However short haul passengers have been offered refunds or the option to travel with the company at a later date. BA has also enlisted the help of an additional 23 aircraft each with staff from other companies. The strikes were originally planned to go ahead over the Christmas period, but after BA made a Legal challenge against the union, these were halted.
The two parties met together with Brendan Barber of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in hopes of coming to an arrangement. This was not to be the case but we hear they are still communicating via the TUC.
Although we have seen a deal between Unite and BA, Unite were to later find out via the media that BA had withdrawn from this. BA has argued that the deal was only made on the condition that Unite did not continue with their planned stoppages. Merely an hour after the strikes were announced BA Withdrew.
Unite had made a proposal to B.A which included a plan to save £63 million from pay, crew numbers, meal allowances, hotel costs and by natural wastage in the hope of saving as many jobs as possible. B.A did not accept this offer. Unite had also offered 2.6% worth of pay cuts after a period of 1 year, during which wages would be frozen. BA said they had a similar package which would save £62.5 million without cutting the wages of existing staff. We also saw BA bring into action a voluntary redundancy plan earlier, which led to 1,100 staff leaving their jobs with the company. Unite is actively fighting to have these positions reinstated. As part of their 'united we stand' campaign Unite also want to see the reintroduction of a fifteenth crew member on long haul flights. BA is very much against this idea. BA is adamant that changes in cabin crew are not to be reversed. Unite are also due to call a consultative ballot to see whether there is a need for an industrial ballot to take place in regards to changes affecting baggage handling staff. This is said to be several weeks away.
Gordon Brown has urged the parties to come to an agreement on the matter saying this is 'completely unacceptable'. It is said that Downing Street is on the side of the union as they have contributed £11 million towards the Labour party. The rumours of Unite working with Downing Street on the matter have been denied.
Unite have said that BA only came to an agreement with themselves to avoid strike action. Len McCluskey, assistant general secretary of unite, believes that BA has other motives behind the ongoing disputes.
'But we have been faced with a management which at times has almost seemed to want a dispute. Every time talks appeared to make progress, the chief executive or another senior manager has popped up making public statements designed to inflame the situation. This has led to the view that BA management's real agenda is destroying trade unionism among its employees.'
Should the strikes go ahead there will be massive disruptions to service, which will also continue after the stoppages as the aircraft along with their crews will not be in the right places so hindering the running of services.
This action will affect around 525,000 passengers and cause great losses in finance for BA. Although, if a deal were to be agreed upon, not only would BA's employees see the benefit, it would greatly benefit BA itself. Unite have taken steps showing they understand BA's situation, what they are asking is not unfair to the company.