The days of glamourous flying are over – well at least for most of us. Likewise the days when working as cabin crew for the ‘world’s favourite airline’ was a dream job, a job synonymous with serving the rich and glamourous in exotic destinations.
And now the dream – for many of British Airways’ mixed fleet at least – is at best a bubble burst, at worst a nightmare.
Today (July 28) International Airlines Group (IAG) – BA’s parent company – revealed colossal profits of €975m for the half year to July 2017, a massive rise of nearly 40 per cent.
British Airways profits of €742m, are up nearly 20 per cent, against the backdrop of the mixed fleet cabin crew dispute and a disastrous start to the busy summer season caused by an IT failure – exposing the airline to be without a disruption plan to support passengers.
Unite has repeatedly urged the airline to address the issue of poverty pay among mixed fleet crew – whose salaries start at just over £12,000 – which has seen some turn to food banks and others take second jobs in order to get by.
Mixed fleet member Jay* was clearly not impressed. He said, “The profits are great for the shareholders, yet they treat us like this. They are paying huge allowances to cabin crew to get taxis into work, for food and toiletries, it can’t be sustainable.”
It’s not easy – especially when they had expected so much. Darren* tells us, “I left a £21k a year (basic, before bonus) branch manager position for a mobile phone company to experience my dream as cabin crew. I saw the £21k – £25k offering on BA’s website and thought that looked ok.
“Little did I know that you don’t even get close to that. Last year my P60, along with everyone I have spoken to on the fleet showed I made just over £17k.”
The harsh reality is many cabin crew are facing life on poverty pay. Mixed fleet salaries start at just over £12,000. Unite has repeatedly urged the airline to address this shameful situation – which has seen some have no choice but to turn to food banks. Others take second jobs in order to get by.
For many second jobs are the only way to survive – leaving many stressed and exhausted. “I’ve had to have a second job the entire six years I’ve worked on mixed fleet. I’m in my mid 30s and I shouldn’t have to do that,” says Emma*.
“I’ve been living on one ready meal a day. My BA pay covers my rent and no more.”
For Emma the perceived cabin crew lifestyle is as illusory as the advertised income promised as 10 per cent above the market rate.
She says, “I don’t drink, I don’t party. In fact I try not to spend money down route, and try to take my own food when I can. But I can’t live on pot noodle.”
The ongoing dispute became increasingly bitter when British Airways removed the ‘bonuses’ of striking crew – a vital lifeline for the low-waged workers.
And that wasn’t all. The financial punishment continued as the BA cut the travel benefits on which a number of the already struggling crew relied on to commute to work.
Member Martha* is finding this tough – leaving her at her wits’ end.
“I’m doing hairdressing just to pay for petrol,” she says. “It makes me rage when I see the profits BA is making. Why can’t they pass some of those on to us? All they need to do is offer us a bit more money, give us our bonuses back and treat us with a bit of respect. We’re not asking for much.
“I’m embarrassed to use the food bank here. My friends do shopping for me, but I shouldn’t have to live like this, always in a panic when a bill comes in.”
Food bank – Unite Mixed Fleet branch food bank for striking members
Unite has called this state of affairs as ‘frankly obscene’ and has vowed to challenge both these moves in court.
“IAG’s colossal profits confirm what we have always said; that BA can easily afford to solve this dispute,” commented Oliver Richardson, Unite national officer for civil aviation.
“It is frankly obscene to keep thousands of BA’s workforce on poverty pay at the same time as the company makes millions of pounds.
“The airline seems content to spend a fortune to break the will of their own workforce, rather than resolve their concerns over fair wages and punitive sanctions,” he added.
For Jaime* with a ‘crippling mortgage’ to pay, the emphasis on profits and share prices when she counts the pennies in her purse, is demoralising.
“In my first year with BA my P60 showed I earned £19,900. Last year it was just over £15,000.
“Working for BA is no longer a future, a career. They want you to work for two years and go. The shares certainly look good, if you can afford to buy them. But that’s just it with BA, it’s all about the share price,” she says.
“The City may cheer today’s news but every day this dispute drags on is another day that our national carrier is associated with the bullying and intimidation of a young, lowly paid workforce,” says Richardson.
“The damage that the airline’s aggression towards its workforce is doing to its reputation must surely be ringing alarm bells.”
The BA mixed fleet cabin crew end a 14-day stoppage at midnight on August 1. If there is no resolution another 14-day dispute will start on August 2.
“Unite says again to BA chief executive Alex Cruz, sit down with us and work this out,” Richardson says. “Quite clearly the airline can afford to settle this dispute.
“To fail to do so in the wake of such staggering profits is simply irresponsible.”
Irresponsible and unfair. “I get people writing in complimenting me on my work,” explains Emma. “My experience is valuable, they need experienced crew.
“It’s not glamorous or easy work. There are many nights we go without sleep, many trips we have to deal with medical emergencies and abusive passengers.
“It’s not right that I work for the national flag carrier, which is making these huge profits, and I can’t afford food. There’s nothing in my fridge except for condiments and butter.”
Unite believes Emma, Jay, Martha and all the mixed fleet crew facing such hardships deserve better. The dispute continues.
*Name has been changed