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Why are the British Airways unions snubbing redundancy consultations?

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In recent weeks we have extensively covered British Airways’ proposal to make 12,000 staff redundant as well as move all remaining cabin crew to a single, lower paying contract.  We have also written about BA’s plans to make 239 engineers at its Cardiff maintenance base redundant.

Similar proposals for mass redundancies, changes to working practices and pay cuts for those who remain have been submitted for all other areas of the company including head office staff.

None of these proposals are yet final.  In line with legal requirements, each is subject to a 45 day consultation period with the relevant unions.

There had been rumours that almost all of the unions have refused to engage with these consultations.  A letter from British Airways CEO Alex Cruz leaked to the Financial Times on Monday confirms this.

In the letter, Cruz acknowledges that productive conversations have occurred with BALPA, the British Airline Pilots Association, but that GMB and Unite have so far failed to attend any meetings:

“Consultation is so important, and productive conversations are already being held with BALPA.  I am sorry that neither Unite nor GMB have attended any of the daily meetings they are invited to so that they can provide ideas and input into any of the other proposed changes, and maximise the number of jobs saved.”

In the same letter Cruz acknowledges that the UK’s 14 day quarantine will delay any pick-up in activity, stating that it “deals another blow to our chances of starting the recovery phase”.

Unite has said it will launch a public campaign against British Airways management.  Instead of joining the consultation, it is relying on the argument that ‘meaningful consultations’ cannot occur when a large portion of the workforce is furloughed and legally unable to work.  A furloughed employee loses their right to furlough pay if they do so much as send or reply to email via their work address.

In a letter to the British Airways board, Unite has called for British Airways to remove the redundancy threat to give “time and space” to “real discussions”.

The letter adds:

“If this is really all about the Covid-19 crisis, why have you refused to suggest or accept any temporary measures with joint reviews, so that terms and conditions would be returned as revenue climbs?  In truth, you have imposed this without any intention of negotiating.”

Unite and GMB are taking a gamble, especially as they do not appear to be seeking a legal ruling on whether consultation can take place whilst employees are furloughed.  We are now halfway through the 45 day consultation period and yet no discussions have taken place.

It appears that British Airways, by attempting to open a consultation period, has met its legal obligations.  It will be able to dismiss its entire workforce on 15th June if it wishes, offering new contracts to those it wishes to invite back.  There is a risk that Unite and GMB will fail to achieve the best possible result for their members (which, of course, will not be great but potentially better than the current offer) by focusing instead on a public campaign against the airline.

British Airways is, of course, far from the only airline to announce permanent lay-offs, although it is the only one looking to cut the pay and conditions of all staff.  Virgin Atlantic is seeking over 3,000 redundancies, or a third of its workforce, whilst Lufthansa sees at least 10,000 excess jobs over the next few years. Finnair has announced it may cut up to 1,200 jobs whilst SAS has announced it will be cutting 40% of its workforce.

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Comments (152)

  • Briand says:

    New news,
    According to British Airways’ filings yesterday, the airline has mortgaged a total of 48 aircraft with Citibank. These aircraft come from both the long-and-short-haul fleets. All of the aircraft are under 20 years old, with the two oldest being delivered in December 2000. The youngest aircraft is just four years old.
    By mortgaging its aircraft, British Airways has secured $750 million in funds from Citibank.

  • Cheshire HR says:

    I think Unite are playing a dangerous game…. firstly the gov own guidelines advises you can be consulted on and made redundant during furlough and that unions can consult during this time. They would have to go for “unfair dismissal ” to challenge it. This would only kick in after the individual had left the company and in my experience of the ET system would take at least a year so not quite sure how that helps those selected for redundancy. Equally the company can serve notice to any employee and advise a change of terms and conditions so long as they offer them the option to either accept or leave with statutory payment (Asda did this just last year) are Unite thinking everyone will leave and it will put BA in a poor operational position and Unite can claim constructive dismissal on this scenario? BA know not everyone will say no to the new contract and they also have 3 other airlines who can pick up the work via IAG. Equally lots of claims by senior crew that they will be expected to take a pay cut of upto 65% (those on the golden runway contract), as BA have published the new senior crew rate of 35k pa this would mean some crew on at least 85k plus. Can an airline sustain these sorts of salaries? No hiding that BA are being sneaky, but seems they are being legal, Unite should be consulting just like BALPA as a court case in 12 18 months time is not going to help those employees now!

    • Mike P says:

      85K sounds like a lot for even the most senior cabin crew members. Whilst I totally acknowledge it’s a responsible job, it’s not a terribly skilled job and that, compared with the average salary in the UK, sounds pretty high. Are we sure there are cabin crew on that sort of money?

      • Lady London says:

        Not many, for sure, but BA will be talking it up.

        • Cheshire HR says:

          Couple of thousand earning around that mark. Equally it’s the unions, not BA that are going out with the line “Senior crew with 25 years experience will be taking a 65% pay cut” The proposed salary published by BA for the new contract is 34k.

    • BA Betrayal says:

      BALPA members are not on furlough, a majority of Unite/BASSA crew are and those who are working are doing so without PPE.. and who’s feeding you the £35k figure 🤔 the new terms is way way less than that of the existing mixed fleet contracts which where only increased recently due to Unite negotiations because they just met the minimum wage. I’ve seen with my own eyes cabin crew sleeping in there cars and using shower/washing facilities at Beaconsfield service station because they either can’t afford to live close to the airport or commute back and forth from home when on work duty. With regards to not requiring skills you try carrying out the SEP exams undertaken by every cabin staff member every year …. there onboard for the safety of customers to get you off the aircraft as quickly as possible in crisis with them being last off… take your BA blinkers off the actions being taken are nothing less than opportunistic corporate (Covid-19) greed and any savings they make from this will not go towards subsidising airline tickets or improving the onboard experience they will just increase share holders dividends.

      • Cheshire HR says:

        The 35k figure for senior crew has already been published by BA as part of the proposals to those affected, equally Unite are also mentioning these figures in some of their communications. The standard cabin crew proposed salary is 24k a year which is currently higher for most MF crew. Yes they will have less crew on board under the proposals and will have less nights downroute all to cut costs. Those crew who sleep at the services are few and far between and you have to ask why? LHR has not moved, the salary has not got any lower and the rosta patterns haven’t changed much on MF so they knew the deal when they joined, BA haven’t changed those goal posts yet. Yes all crew work hard, I know I was crew for 15yrs, 5 of them as an SEP trainer, but equally BA WW and EF have had the golden runway contract and refused to ever negotiate any savings on it and it is just unsustainable, and unfortunately BA have taken this opportunity to deal with it now, morally I have issues with how they are going about it, but sadly they are breaking no laws yet.

  • J says:

    And the vast majority probably on half that – or less.

  • Cheshire HR says:

    Union reps and employee reps can carry out that role whilst furloughed. Unfortunately there are already doing so in other companies and Pilots who are BALPA reps and are furloughed are already in discussions with BA.