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British Airways strikes now looking likely for early August as pilots prepare to vote

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As we broke on Twitter yesterday morning, BALPA – the main British Airways pilots union – has submitted formal notice to British Airways that it intends to hold a strike ballot.

What are the British Airways strike dates going to be?

We don’t know.  However, under UK law, an employer must be given seven days notice of the intention to hold such a ballot.

The Independent is quoting a timetable of:

ballot papers posted to members on 26th June

deadline for receipt of ballot papers of 22nd July

earliest date for strike action – given the legal obligation to give notice – of 5th August

It’s not just the pilots, of course, although with no pilots the rest of the staff might as well stay at home anyway.

Unite and GMB, which represent most other employees at the airline, are running a few days behind BALPA but are also about to submit a similar formal notice to BA.  The three unions have been conducting a joint pay negotiation.

What are the British Airways strike dates?

What is the current BA pay offer?

The current offer is 11.5% over three years, consisting of:

  • 4% in 2019
  • 3.5% in 2020
  • 4% in 2021

However, whilst this sounds ok, it does not reflect the reality of how crew are paid.  A relatively low base salary is topped up by a substantial number of additional payments to reflect, for example, nights away from home.  These allowances would not change and therefore the effect on total take home pay is far lower than the numbers quoted.

British Airways is also proposing a new bonus scheme.  The current one is complex with many factors – such as passenger NPS (basically ‘how happy are you to recommend BA to friends?’) – driven more by management initiatives than staff.

A statement from the Unite union to staff yesterday said:

Despite record profits, British Airways remain unwilling to share such success with those who helped create it.

The mindset of the so called “fight for survival” has become a permanent fixture. Cost cutting measures introduced with undue haste are never rescinded or returned to those who made them – even when they are no longer necessary or when record breaking profits are announced.

It would seem that staff only exist in management thinking when blame must be apportioned, when times are bad, or a when collective belt tightening is required. It is easy to recount the seemingly endless list of cost cutting initiatives in every area. Different names but the same outcome, “cost” i.e. your pay or terms and conditions were reduced for the greater good of the airline.

During the bad times, ordinary staff have shouldered more than their fair share of the airline’s cost cutting initiatives and ever reducing terms and conditions, without either acknowledgement or reward. It is therefore entirely reasonable that they are now able to share in BA’s success.

However, this has simply not been the case. Management do share in this success through a series of profit-based initiatives which can add up to millions of pounds, but staff do not – and it is for this principle, that BALPA, the pilots’ union, has issued formal notice to BA of their intention to hold a strike ballot for their members.

Unite and GMB will be balloting their respective members in the near future.

What are the British Airways strike dates?

What impact would a strike have?

It depends.  On days when BALPA strikes, it is effectively game over.

On days when Unite and GMB strike, it may be possible to keep a fair number of services on track.

On long-haul, British Airways currently has excess Mixed Fleet staff.  Strong recent hiring, the grounding of some Boeing 787 aircraft due to engine issues and the wet leasing of the Air Belgium aircraft (which have their own crew) means that there are cabin crew to spare.

On short-haul it is a different matter.  BA is apparently short on both crew and pilots, with many being rostered to their legal limits.

Qatar Airways has provided cover to British Airways in the past, providing fully crewed aircraft (Qatar has spare capacity at the moment due to the UAE blockade).  I am not sure if the CAA would allow this to happen again.  British Airways has also roped in managerial staff before to cover, although hopefully not for pilot roles …..

Anyway …. fun and games.  Let’s see how it pans out.


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Comments (172)

  • BJ says:

    Just in time to hit returning early August bank holiday flights. Next round would likely be the late August bank holiday and then half term if it got that far. Personally I think pilots should take what’s on offer as they are already amongst the best paid in the industry. The profits should IMO be shared more widely with mixed fleet crew at the lower end. I certainly hope CAA will definitely not permit them to buy in cover from Watar or elsewhere to undermine industrial action, such practices should be illegal.

    • Anna says:

      “Early August bank holiday” – do you know something we don’t?!

      • David says:

        Yes it’s when the queen dies

      • BJ says:

        5 August is a bank holiday.

        • Aw says:

          No, it is not. You’re thinking of Scotland. The next bank holiday in England and Wales is 26 August.

          • Andrew says:

            This is a UK based site… Next thing you’ll be claiming that the 30th November isn’t a bank holiday!

            To be fair, most financial organisations in Scotland follow the English BH in August to make settlements smoother.

        • MD says:

          Only in Scotland!

      • Nigel the pensioner says:

        Scottish perhaps?

      • RussellH says:

        I never understood why England decided to move the August Bank Holiday to the end of the month – it was some time ago.
        It had to remain at the beginning of the month in Scotland as otherwise you would have had a Bank Holiday in the second or third week of the school year, which would have been bonkers.

  • Sam G says:

    Qatar did cover the last strike – the CAA wants/needs to see that there was no EU sub charter option available but considering the Max grounding and the time of year this shouldn’t be a problem – Thomson have had anything up to a Wamos 747 covering some of their short runs out of Birmingham!

    Otherwise I am sure they’ll be moving heaven and earth to cover as many flights as possible – I remember Ryanair operating some domestics for them years ago during one strike!

  • david says:

    I was ready to lambaste but reading Union’s letter you supplied Rob, this seems a necessary nuisance. But as such is life, and many can say the same, as long as it does not affect me it can go ahead.

  • Nick says:

    Me and my partner are due to fly back from JFK on 6th August after a three week holiday in USA. Hopefully they won’t choose this day.

    If they do what happens to passengers do they get rebooked for the next day or told you have to just walk home ?

  • Anna says:

    What are passengers’ rights in the event of a flight being cancelled by strike action? I have a 3 week holiday booked in early August to a long haul destination which only has 4 direct flights per week anyway. It would be a real nightmare to try and re-route, probably via the US.

  • Nick says:

    As always, it’s best to ensure you have travel insurance in place well before any possible dates are announced for a strike(s). Most travel insurence excludes cover for strike(s), or any form of industrial action, which has been announced, or commenced, before you purchase travel tickets, obtain confirmation of booking or before you depart from your home.

    • Anna says:

      Of course we have travel insurance, but as you just pointed out, it generally doesn’t cover strike action!

      • Nick says:

        It does generally cover strike action, but only if you’ve purchased tickets before any dates are announced.

  • Sam Wardill says:

    Thanks Rob for a balanced view on the merits of the strike. I have spent a morning (in Sydney) at a conference on ethical leadership and managing corporations for the benefit of all stakeholders. It is refreshing to see that your audience does not expect you to lambaste BA pilots and crew as being overpaid and greedy.

    Is the jury still out on whether EU261 compensation is payable for cancellations within 2 weeks?

    • Shoestring says:

      No – it is now case-hardened. An internal strike is not seen as an extraordinary circumstance – whereas an external strike, eg ATC – would always be enough to stop EC261 compo being payable.

      However, do not expect BA to roll over like a puppy if you put in a claim for a BALPA strike grounding your flight. You’d have to drag them screaming and shouting to MCOL.

      IMHO, you might even lose MCOL in the case of a BALPA strike. As the article notes, with Unite or GMB strikes, BA stand a decent chance of planning around the strike and keeping your flight going. But with BALPA – assuming quite a lot of pilots do actually go on strike (not a given) – they can’t roster alternative pilots out of thin air.

      So it will depend on reasonableness, ie did BA do everything reasonably possible to keep your flight going. Here’s an example (a). A plane goes tech at Heathrow and you get delayed. BA would generally lose a MCOL case here because LHR is BA’s hub and there are other planes available. Whereas (b) a plane goes tech at an out-station, eg Rome. There are no replacement aircraft available and BA has to send one in & you get delayed more than 3 hrs. People *have* lost this kind of MCOL case, because BA did everything reasonably possible to keep you flying. It is not reasonable to expect BA to keep spare planes sitting around for eventualities like this.

      • Anna says:

        Under these circumstances, getting to my destination is more important than eligibility for compensation! I am flying on a Saturday and the next direct flight isn’t until Tuesday (even if that one wasn’t also affected, or full). In the past BA have insisted on putting us on one of their direct flights rather than re-routing us with another airline. Would we be entitled to re-route sooner indirectly or with another airline? Also, are we entitled to fly in the same cabin class? (The money.co.uk article doesn’t address either of these points).

        • AJA says:

          I believe the answer is yes to both questions although I’d be tempted to take an economy class seat that gets me to my destination the same day rather than losing days from my holiday for the sake of flying in J.

          You might find BA would still credit tier points and Avios as if you were flying J as a form of compensation.

          Years ago when BA had the catering strikes my flight went minus catering. They handed out water and sandwiches from the lounge at the gate (arguably better than the meal on board) and I got 15,000 avios in compensation. Was pretty happy with that.

        • Shoestring says:

          @Anna it comes down to reasonableness. With the recent-ish Ryanair strikes, the CAA got fed up with Ryanair re-routing people on its preferred alternatives and said Ryanair *must* re-route people on non-preferred competitors if it got them to their destination in a timely manner, I’ll see if I can find the reference.

        • Lady London says:

          With that kind Of gap to next Flight you would ne n’est to work out 3 alternative routings you préfet And ask for thème. BA should agréé as per CAA instruction to Ryanair mentioned by Shoestring but will drag their feet.

          Easiest for both sides to agrer if you prioritise firstly any combo Of BA IB or AA flights even indirect. Then any Oneworld. Then any other. BA would legally be wrong but will try to stick at options in BA/AA/IB. So don’t delay contacting them but while you’re in the queue or before, work out options to put to them. Even better if you get time while you’re waiting to check space on them in case more options are needed.

      • Shoestring says:

        [In response to Ryanair’s passengers’ concerns about their rights during the current and planned industrial action, a spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said:
        “Passengers have the right to seek compensation under EU legislation when flights are delayed by three hours or more, cancelled or when they are denied boarding.
        “We note that the recent industrial action is not by Ryanair’s UK employees, but it is the view of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, taking account of previous Court rulings, that when a flight cancellation is caused by strike action by the airline’s employees, the airline is required to pay compensation to passengers in respect of the cancellation of the flight, if it has not warned passengers of the cancellation at least two weeks prior to the scheduled time of departure.]

      • RussellH says:

        Quite right that an internal strike is not seen as an extraordinary circumstance – at the end of the day it is something that management have decided should happen. They could have agreed a better pay deal to avert the strike.
        I would imagine that union negotiators will have pointed this out to management during their discussions.
        And part of the logic behind going for a strike ballot is to put pressure on management too. Management may believe that their is little or no support for industrial action, but if a ballot makes it clear that they are wrong, management may well decide to think again.

    • Rob says:

      Would be rather hypocritical, given that HFP staff earn 50% more than crew crew even after allowances and Rhys is currently chilling in a 5-star in Malaysia on a free trip ….

  • Olly says:

    On one hand I think there will be a lot of people who have endured years of pay rises of 1 to 2% who would feel 11.5%, even if it’s over 3 years, is a good deal and will not be particularly supportive of the pilot’s actions, especially if it ruins their holidays. On the other hand, there will be those who think the pilot’s statement over sharing the profits from the austerity measures management have brought in to get profits up need to be distributed to the workforce not who they consider to be the fat cats doing of the cream. I don’t think either group will have confidence in BA flights in the future though and this may impact ticket sales. I’ve proactively stayed away from booking BA over the past few years due to their strike history then a recent conversation with current and retired BA employees gave me a bit of confidence that it was behind them. Then this story arrives and puts me off booking BA once again.

    • Shoestring says:

      I can’t see that BA pilots are risking their capital in IAG…there’s a difference between risk & reward for shareholders and for employees

    • RussellH says:

      But as Rob makes very clear, it is NOT an 11.5% increase. It is only on the basic pay, and it is only 4% in the first year, which is what really counts. And I would hazard a guess that the basic pay of cabin crew is way below the basic pay of the majority of readers of this site.