'We refuse to be kicked again'
BA cargo workers speak out ahead of latest ‘fire and rehire’ strike
BA cargo workers at Heathrow airport are set to strike again for nine days from Friday (January 22).
The company’s refusal to row back on its opportunistic plans to fire and rehire its loyal cargo staff on inferior pay and conditions, stripping workers of between £6,000-£8,000 a year, permanently has driven them to it.
Ahead of this second round of strikes, we spoke to a couple of members about why they’re striking and the impact the company’s ‘fire and rehire’ decision has had on them and their families. Here’s what they had to say.
Ash* who’s been with BA cargo (IAG) for 20 years said, “I’ve dedicated my life to the company because it has always looked after me and my family.
“But now I just feel really let down. I’m so disappointed at the company’s decision. They don’t have to do this, they’re just using Covid as an excuse. It’s left me extremely stressed and wondering how I’m going to pay my mortgage and bills.
This time, Ash* thinks they’ve gone too far.
“Over the years management has always wanted to make savings, and we and the union have always delivered, from roster changes to moving us onto inferior pensions,” he said. “Now they want to rip up our terms and conditions and give us less money.This is why I’m reluctantly going on strike.”
For Joe* the threats and lack of respect is why he’s striking.
“I was 18 years old when I started. Pulled out all the stops for this once great company,” he said. “Since the arrival of IAG the place has become more like a prison.
“I’m worse off now. IAG has made me poorer. I have been stressed out with this. I don’t feel valued at all or appreciated for all the hard work I’ve put in. It made me so mad when the management threatened that ‘I would lose staff travel forever’, if I didn’t sign the settlement agreement.”
Gary* wants people to know that this isn’t about wanting more money.
“Taking strike action is not something I’ve done lightly. I don’t want more money,” he said. “What I want is for my terms and conditions to be left alone. I’ve a worked for BA for 26 years and if I want to continue to work for BA I would be taking a 20% pay cut.”
BA cargo workers have worked throughout the pandemic, bringing in PPE and other vital supplies. They are key workers who have helped the company achieve record profits during the crisis, with IAG Cargo seeing large revenue gains after responding to the freight crisis.
Brian* who has worked for BA cargo for over 30 years felt proud when he first received the email from work telling him that under government guidelines he was an ‘essential part of the supply chain’ – a key worker. He felt he was doing his bit, but he is highly critical of the management’s slow response to protecting workers and how they’ve treated staff since.
When staff were thanked for ‘making record profits’ for the company, this is what in effect Brian and his colleagues were told, Brian noted: “’Thanks for all you’re hard work everyone, we’re making record profits now. Oh and by the way we’re terminating you’re contracts and re-employing you on 20 per cent less money and new terms and conditions.’”
“Wow, after 32 years I wasn’t expecting that,” Brian added.
“I feel betrayed after all I’ve done putting myself my loved ones at risk. It’s a kick in the teeth. Eleven years of pay rises taken away from me, my terms and conditions ripped from under me. Lied to time after time. They can’t get away with treating us like this – it’s immoral.”
The first round of strikes started on Christmas day. It was the first time many had taken strike action. It was a stressful time and the decision to walk out was not taken lightly, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. This is what a few of our members had to say:
“The 25th of December 2020, 12.01am was the saddest and at the same time proudest day in my 25 years of working for BA.
“Sad because I never thought the day would come when I would have to walk out, because the company that I was once truly proud to say I worked for, would use the back drop of this terrible pandemic to attack its staff, rip up our terms and conditions and impose massive pay cuts.
“We have kept the company going throughout the pandemic, when passengers haven’t been flying.” Stephen* added.
On the solidarity shown among his colleagues, he said, “Proud isn’t a big enough word to describe how I feel. We have such a multicultural work force, with legacy staff and ‘Futures staff’. All on different pay scales and rosters, male, female, young and old. People who have worked for one year and people who have worked for 40 years. The unity shown by everyone is truly amazing, but we cannot stop now — we must stay strong and together.”
Brian* added, “The only decent thing to come from all of this is that the management has made us stronger. We all feel the same. 800 of us used and dumped. Dumped by a faceless employer with no morals just greed.
“We are now an 800-strong army, who refuse to be kicked again, which is why we’re continuing with our fight for justice with more strike action.”
Please show your support for our BA cargo workers. If you’re on social media share your messages of solidarity using #BACargoStrike. Even better, why not record a video message of solidarity? Make sure to include Unite in your posts so that we can retweet @unitetheunion on Twitter and @unitetheunion1 on Facebook.
By Chantal Chegrinec
*Name changed to protect identity.