British Airways heading for 'winter of discontent'

Unite warns ‘appalling’ BA that fight to stop its industrial thuggery is stepping up

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British Airways is heading for months of industrial unrest unless it steps back from proposals which will effectively force thousands of workers onto punitive and insecure zero hours-type contracts.

The warning comes from Unite, the main union at the airline, which says today that BA’s claims that settlements have been reached with the workforce are `a deliberate effort to mislead and cause division’.

The union is also challenging the airline on the its further attacks on the redundancy payments of workers leaving the company voluntarily.

Despite claims that the airline has reached settlements with Unite over its plans for the workforce, key parts of the workforce, including the ground services staff who move aircraft around airports, along with the cabin crew, as well as other industrial groups are still resisting the `hire and fire’ imposition which effectively sweeps away the pay, conditions and job security of tens of thousands of BA workers, causing public and political outrage.

The airline has also forced 6000 workers to leave the business by the end of August, and is seeking to force out 4000 more.

In an added level of insult to the workforce, the highest paid in the company including BA managers are being advised that while they will have pay cuts, these will only be temporary reinforcing Unite’s long-standing claim that the airline’s attack on the workforce are needless and opportunistic.

Unite has written to BA management to warn that its latest assault on the workers, including an attack on redundancy pay of those leaving the company, the failure to undertake equality impact assessments meaning the jobs axe has fallen heavily on BAEM workers, and new clauses that will see workers jobless on the whim of the company mean that legal and industrial action is inevitable.

In order to update members on developments, the union will be holding a mass meeting of the ramp, baggage and cargo staff within BA still in negotiations about their futures on Thursday, August 20 at Bedfont FC.

The prospect of industrial action, including strike action at the airline’s Heathrow hub, has already been raised by a workforce furious at the mistreatment heaped upon them by their employer since the Covid-19 crisis began.

Progress had been made by Unite to reach fairer agreements with core groups within the airline, similar to the same terms offered to the pilots and engineers, but at the last minute, senior officials from BA destroyed the possibility of any settlement.

Further, BA has moved to attack the workers’ redundancy payouts, is seeking to force through five weeks’ unpaid leave per year, and is demanding that the remaining workforce agrees to the perpetual threat of imminent layoff of up to six weeks a year. It means that many of those who stay with the airline are faced with a potential 43 per cent cut in pay.

In addition to industrial action Unite is considering supporting potentially thousands of workers in employment tribunal cases against the company where workers have been misled on the monetary value of voluntary redundancy.

Cabin crew and other staff were told that by agreeing to voluntary redundancy they would receive an enhanced payment above statutory redundancy pay. However, while assisting members with their claims Unite discovered that BA was refusing to follow the standard formula for calculation, which includes contractual payments, leaving employees who will exit the business potentially thousands of pounds worse off.

Unite has subsequently advised affected members that they have been misled by the company over the value of their redundancy settlement and as such should withdraw from the voluntary redundancy scheme. If they are not given the opportunity of remaining with the company then cases for unfair dismissal and misrepresentation will be lodged.

Speaking ahead of meeting the members today (August 20), Unite’s assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said, “BA’s appalling behaviour puts that of a Victorian mill owner to shame.

“Make no mistake however, this fight is far from over. In fact it’s only just beginning. Despite BA’s deliberate efforts to mislead and divide, there can be no peace while this wealthy business is determined to make the lowest paid pay the highest price in an opportunistic re-structuring while the better-off get to keep their pay and conditions,” he added.

“Overnight, Willie Walsh and his managers are turning British Airways into a mass user of what are effectively wholly flexible contracts which will be completely open to abuse. This an employment scandal, and a very dark day for this country, where BA still pretends to lays claim to national carrier status.

“Unite is utterly determined that BA will not get away with this thuggery, and we will fight this grotesque abuse of decent working people with every tool at our disposal. If that means months of going through the courts and taking strike action to protect workers, so be it. BA has left these workers and its union no other choice,” Beckett continued.

“In standing up to this bully, they will have receive the total support of their union, Unite.”

Oliver Richardson, Unite’s national officer for civil aviation, added, “Those who feel that they have no choice but to remain with a company that has launched a war on its workforce will have to endure pay cuts but will have no job security and no control over when they work as BA will pick and choose at a moment’s notice.

“The worst abuses of modern employment are now being imposed by our so-called national carrier. It is an industrial and political disgrace and it is the responsibility of us all to resist it.”

Unite has said that the airline’s shocking refusal to use the government jobs retention scheme to retain workers during this crisis is one reason that it should forfeit its rights to lucrative slots such as that between Heathrow and New York JFK.

By Barckley Sumner

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