30 November 2010 #Employment
The British Airways dispute continues to rumble on with the news that BA cabin crew are to be balloted again over strike action before Christmas. UNITE has confirmed that there will be no actual strike action over Christmas.
The original dispute, going back over a year ago, concerned staffing levels, pay and conditions. This latest dispute is mainly over the removal of travel concessions from workers who took part in the industrial action earlier this year, plus it is said that some workers were subject to disciplinary action as a result of the action. The union wants a full restoration of the travel perks, binding ACAS arbitration on the disciplinary cases, a restoration of pay to those genuinely sick during the dispute plus discussion over how BA has handled industrial relations within the company.
The travel perks are notoriously valuable. BA staff, plus their family and friends are able to buy flights at 10% of the full fare price but travelling on travel standby, so they are only able to travel if there are empty seats. The longer workers have worked for the airline, the higher up the standby list they go.
BA has offered to reinstate the perks of striking workers, but only at the level of new joiners, so they would have to go to the back of the standby queue. BA has also said that seniority will only be restored at the end of a period of three years good behaviour. This is an interesting way, it seems, to try to secure a "no strike" agreement in practice. An agreement not to strike, although possible, has no real practical effect in the UK, whereas the removal of valuable discretionary benefits from striking workers can be highly effective, although, as the BA dispute has shown, it can also be highly controversial and can provoke a further dispute.
It has been interesting to see whether BA would use the removal of the travel perks as a bargaining tool in the overall dispute. When they were first removed, BA said they would not be restored at all. It will be even more interesting to see whether BA will stick to its guns on this issue. If they do succeed, it will be a significant outcome for them.