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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)

  • Trevor Butler says:

    Why are we subjected to an opinion headline? Why not just say “not engaging” or “avoiding”.

    Why use the emotive ‘snubbing”?

    Sounds suspiciously as though the writer has been ‘got at’ by someone in BA’s press office.

    Let’s not have this BBC-style bias. It is lazy journalism and not worthy of this site.

    • Rhys says:

      Because ‘snubbing’ is a valid word to use, given that it means “rebuff, ignore, or spurn disdainfully.”

      If you read our recent pieces about BA’s actions you will see we have been equally critical (if not more so!) of their actions.

    • mark2 says:

      Surely the BBC would be biased in favour of the union

      • Larry Kinsberg says:

        The BBC is too terrified to have an opinion/view/bias on anything. They present both sides of the story and aren’t presenting opinions or anything I find. The reporters try to be aggressive to all sides of the political spectrum but it looks like they are just trying to get a show reel together rather than present an opinion.

  • Henry Larsen says:

    A small point but something must have got lost in the editing.

    Rhys: ‘…whilst SAS, another Scandinavian airline,…’

    Another? In fact, SAS is the only Scandinavian airline mentioned in the article.

    • Rob says:

      We treat Finland as Scandi!

      • iamfugly says:

        The same world map that Dominic Cummings uses which treats Durham and Barnard Castle as being in London.

        • Doug M says:

          Scandinavia to include Finland is pretty common use. Scandinavia and Nordic used almost interchangeable.

          • J says:

            Nordic countries also include Iceland and Greenland. Finland have some cultural similarities with Estonia, unlike any Scandinavian country.

      • riku2 says:

        I can confirm that we in Finland are annoyed when lumped into Scandinavia but merrily use the term “England” when talking about the northern part Great Britain where the highlands and lake Ness monster are. For us England / Scotland / Great Britain / UK are used interchangeably. Probably not a single Finn could explain the difference between Great Britain and UK.

        • Bagoly says:

          All German websites I have used offer in country dropdown: “Grossbritannien”.
          Those who live in Belfast have every right to feel aggrieved.

          • J says:

            Vereinigtes Königreich (United Kingdom) is used on official documents, by banks etc I’ve found, but true most Germans would not know the difference.

  • Roddy Teague says:

    I have read through the comments with some interest as an HRD with experience in Shipping as well as Oil & Gas. The basic point is you are paid for your labour & a job description is not set in stone. I find it offensive to part of the workforce when Unions support a multi-tier pay scale for doing exactly the same job. It does not work. Yes this is a chance for BA to reorganise & restructure but that is a once in a lifetime opportunity so take it with both hands. It is a pity that TfL & other continuous operation companies do not follow suit.
    As for the Unions they simply continue to accelerate their own insignificance. No response by them is no excuse & BA will exploit this with their workforce-some of whom are Union members. It is also worth pointing out the recent performance of Len McCluskey & his support for Corbyn. As others have already said these deluded dinosaurs think this is still the 1970s. It is not.
    Therefore BA should carry on & set single market pay rates for all jobs. We need to recognise that this is survival of the fittest & if companies like Virgin do not follow suit Branson will pull the plug & have a fire sale. This will actually reduce the market rate as it produces more applicants.
    As & when air travel goes back up to full capacity-& it will-then more people can be employed.This will then create an inevitable increase in market rate as suitable applicants are significantly fewer.
    Economics lesson over. Stay safe everybody & tell the metropolitan minded BBC how to pronounce Barnard Castle properly!

    • J says:

      The unions do not and never have supported “multi-tier pay scale for doing exactly the same job”. The unions opposed the creation of the Mixed Fleet crew. MF was created anyway and initially never unionised. The euro/worldwide fleets unions have zero influence over MF – it’s a separate contract and under the UK’s strict “anti union” laws they’re prevented from taking any interest or action over workers on a separate contract.

      • Charlieface says:

        You call it anti-union, I might call it pro-business

    • J says:

      Thanks for the economics lesson. Mixed Fleet pay is poverty pay – but the taxpayer subsidises this and enables BA to get away with this via housing benefit and tax credits. When BA in usual times are making billions in profits why should the taxpayer be subsidising them like this?

      • Lady London says:

        Pretty sure someone said British Airways is calling a lot of these regular fulltime adult jobs apprentice jobs as well – IIRC calling someone an “apprentice’ and giving them a minimal amount of training that would be required for the job anyway means British Airways can get.£1000 per month paid by the government for each “apprentice”. It’s basically another subsidy is grabbing for itself.

        • Ken says:

          Yes – BA have a 12 month level 3 cabin crew apprenticeship.

          Ofsted (Jan 2020) found that “staff did not see the value of being an apprentice” and were not even “sufficiently aware” they are even on an apprenticeship when recruited.

          William Hill the bookmakers offer a similar one for their shop staff.

          Germany must laugh when the see the shambles of UK apprenticeships.

          • Lady London says:

            I worked for a major UK/Eu plc that used apprentices in their head office and other sites.Quite a lot of them, actually.
            Those apprentices were doing the same fulltime job as anyone in that business at that level were doing. Their job was dressed up as being a training scheme but basically they were doing a normal job just the company IIRC got £1,000 per month towards their employee’s salary for “training” them as apprentices.

            On the short of base pay BA is proposing of around £14,000? for cabin crew, that subsidy most of the “apprentice’s” salary paid for the year.

            It’s insulting to those people who did apprenticeships of, say, 5 years, learning a trade whereas these employees are just being called a type of worker they’re not really, and us mugs the taxpayer again end up subsidising these companies.

          • Ken says:

            BA’s argument (I don’t agree) will be that the funding for apprentices is effectively returning the apprentice levy they pay on their payroll.
            While some of the training will undoubtedly be very good, the idea that it’s an ‘apprenticeship’ is farcical – but its hardly BA’s fault that vocational training in the UK is such a mess.

    • callum says:

      Given the vast number of people who would meet the minimum application criteria to become cabin crew, I’m not sure that applies. Did the market rate increase significantly before this, when loads were constantly increasing and the economy was doing well with low unemployment? If anything, surely it’s been decreasing at BA with new staff being put on the inferior contracts.

      I’m no economist, but I would suspect that theory only applies to highly skilled positions. If you suddenly want to employ a load more engineers then you’ll have to wait X years for them to get through university. If you suddenly want to employ more cabin crew, just put out a job advert and there will be a million people looking.

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Roddy [email protected] I’m so glad i don’t live in this world of “TODAY”
      I’m 72 now retired at 50 (my choosing, was always my plan from 20)
      I “NEVER” worked any overtime, always refused no mater what the threat
      always refused any contract other than the one i started on, yes i was told i was on a different contract many times & i had no choice (but didn’t make any difference to me, i just said no just not signing)
      I realize its a totally different ball game today
      Employers “forcing” people to work overtime, my all philosophy was i work to live “not” live to work
      I’m sure in this day & age i would be sacked or even not taken on
      I feel sorry for my Grand Children growing up today, probably never having the opportunity’s i had.
      Not that i was in a lot of jobs last one 19 years 8 months, was asked to stop on another 4 months to get a gold watch, said no i retire exactly on my 50th
      I feel i’ve had a life enjoyed last 22 years retirement (every minute of it lol)

      • Larry Kinsberg says:

        Congrats! Did you manage it on final salary scheme pension or other investments? My Dad retired at 50 (now 84) on property he manage to acquire in the last 15 years of his working life. Put us all through university but there’s no chance of any of us getting to retire until our mid 60s thanks to supposedly good stock market pension plans.

        I too refused to sign contracts that I wasn’t happy about. HR claimed it didn’t mater if I didn’t sigh as simply by working there they claimed I accepted the terms. I disagreed with them. Didn’t matter as 6 months later we were bought out by a rival and all give redundancy!

        • Chris Heyes says:

          Larry [email protected] i dabbled in Shares in my younger days plus Antiques whilst still working (40 hours only) i hit on a share on “AIM” called iomart CEO invested a lot into it
          So i bought at 4p a share it went up to £4 a share (well just above) i was very very lucky
          also Vod for dividend & Stagecoach, TSB & other quick turnaround shares building soc’s ect
          Sold & had built a cash pile by the time i was 49
          Bought house & a pension of only 20k but for life, didn’t need more than 20k managed to live comfortably 2/3 hols a year never done the lottery wouldn’t want to win, don’t need anything either

        • Chris Heyes says:

          Larr [email protected] Regards HR & contract yes they told me i didn’t need to sign a new contract to have to abide by it. i laughed at them went out a bought a trench of shares in the firm you’d be surprised at their reaction lol especially when i told them i was having a couple of days of to go to the shareholder meeting lol

    • Londonsteve says:

      A tighter labour market does not generally lead to increased pay. Employers will do everything to resist increasing pay unless they absolutely have to, potentially even taking weaker candidates instead. I haven’t seen pay rates increase for a lot of jobs since the early 2000s, when I first entered the labour market in London. I can give you concrete examples of hourly rates that have not increased since 2001. The minimum wage has gradually gone up but it has not had an upward effect on wages in general. Government minimum wage, unions and collective bargaining agreements appear to be the only things that make a material difference to wage rates, while individual negotiating power as an employee is usually zero. The UK had entered a low wage, low productivity downward spiral well before the current crisis.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    The Unions are using the only tactic that “Could” i stress “Could” be successful yes its a gamble but could easily work Clam in the courts that meaningful negotiations cannot take place whilst Employees are off work on a retention scheme, meant to keep jobs. a court would have to weigh up the arguments & could come down on either side.
    By BA already stating that “ALL” are going to be sacked has in fact weakened its case
    So the Unions are correct to take the gamble (what else can they do ?)
    BA will probably win out in the end, but if the Unions win their case the outcome won’t be exactly as BA wish

    • callum says:

      Why would anyone accept that argument? If anything, they have far more time on their hands to be carefully considering this than they would otherwise.

      Surely contract negotiations don’t count as working time? And if they do, why haven’t I been paid for having them!

      • Ken says:

        I’d say being away from their colleagues is a clear impediment to being able to discuss and take part in any consultation process.

        • callum says:

          While I see your point, is facilitating that discussion not a fundamental point of having a union?

    • mark2 says:

      There have been some very strange employment court decisions recently e.g. recognising self employed people as employees.

      • Ken says:

        I disagree- there is no end of sham self employment in the UK.

        Much of it to avoid National Insurance contributions and in the case of people who handle cash, to depress their income so that they can claim benefits.

        • Londonsteve says:

          Totally agree, Ken. I worked in an outfit where 70% of the people were working in a ‘self employed’ capacity when in fact every aspect of their job screamed employment. They had no flexibility, followed orders and used company equipment, their working hours were fixed, substitution was not possible, etc. The ’employer’ saved an absolute packet in NI contributions while the ‘staff’ paid NI at the self employed rate. Further, there was no holiday pay, sick pay, maternity pay or any costs to sack staff. Further, sham self-employment was being used to circumvent immigration rules valid at the time, as a lot of the ’employees’ were not allowed to be employed without a work permit, but by law were allowed to be self-employed and therefore engaged in providing a ‘service’. This practice was so widespread I can only assume it was acceptable for HMRC.

        • Lady London says:

          and for clarity, “much fake self-employment is to avoid National Insurance contributions”., the Employer’s NI due now costs the employer around 13.75% of the employee’s wage. So we are talking about the Employer having thw most to gain from saying their workers are self-employed.

          Quite apart from the employer being able to duck all sorts of other oblugations towards employees

      • J says:

        Uber drivers, Yodel delivery drivers etc are clearly not self employed.

        • Charlieface says:

          Depends how many other taxi/delivery companies they also work for. Usually none, but not always by any means.

        • mark2 says:

          I think that they are, but then I was self-employed for 27 years.
          I was specifically referring to a plumber who provided his own van and tools, was registered for VAT and could do work for other clients but was still ruled to be am employee.

          • J says:

            Do you mean the Pimlico plumber case where a plumber was wearing their uniform, driving their van and working for them exclusively?

      • callum says:

        You mean recognising certain self-employed people who were acting as employees in all but name?

        I wouldn’t call that “strange”, but even if you want to, it’s nowhere near as strange as deciding that furloughed employees (i.e. people being paid to stay at home not working) aren’t capable of considering contract negotiations. They have nothing but time!

      • Lady London says:

        ?? interesting. any.particular cases?

    • Andrew says:

      The union doesn’t need to win in court. They just need to string it out until some (any) flights are running. Once that’s the case they’ve got the ability to strike back. I believe any flights cancelled due to a strike are subject to EU261 compensation. BA will have a hard job proving that a flight is cancelled due to the pandemic rather than the strike so it could potentially lead to them having to pay compensation for absolutely all flights not running.

      It’s a high risk strategy but is literally the only way of ‘winning’ that the unions have. I suspect they’ll run out of time though and it will all be done and dusted by the time flights resume

      • Lady London says:

        Sadly I think compo thing won’t work.COVID is going to be around for a while and airlines will be exempt from paying compo in all circumstances, even strikes, for a long time yet.TBH all this is sad, but fair enough.

  • John says:

    It’s a matter of degree. Mixed fleet earn a pittance, but the vacancies get filled because young people recognise it for what it’s designed as – a short term opportunity to see the world whilst being paid. The legacy worldwide fleet cabin crew have pay and conditions which, anecdotally, are eye wateringly out of proportion, I hear stories of pursers earning £80k + – more than many Ryanair captains. I’m all for paying for quality, but I’m afraid that my extensive experience of flying both mixed fleet and legacy routes tells me that the enthusiasm of the mixed fleet cabin crew is at least a match for the ‘experience’ of legacy crews. There can be no doubt that BA has been biding it’s time waiting for this opportunity and it’s certainly not wasting this crisis. In a perfect world, in my view, BA should aspire to even out the pay and conditions of all its cabin crew, allow legacy staff to leave on reasonable terms, and staff its aircraft with a mixture of young enthusiastic cabin crew plus some more experienced ones. This would be a win for passengers and the airline and the best compromise that the legacy staff and their unions can possibly aspire to.

    • Nik says:

      Well said. Cue comments of “WW/EF” always score more than MF. (False btw, the difference is negligible, and swings from one to the other frequently!)

      • J says:

        The difference isn’t neglible – wonder what your motive is for saying this when it isn’t true.

        • Harmondsworth says:

          I am privy the data on an ongoing basis. There really isn’t much difference. I don’t know about the above comment’s motive, but let me assure you, I have none and am also “in the firing line” potentially myself. I’m just plainly stating what I have seen.

    • Lady London says:

      i think that’s the bones of a practical solution @John.

      Just unhappy with British Airways’s methods to get what will put them in a better position abd very, very sad that UK legislation allows such nasty treatment of employees.

      I think the union has got a point about furlough not bring compatible with genuine consultation and sincerely hope the union is legally well advised.

      • Briand says:

        I guess if you had your way, BA would have no say and would continue to be at beck and call of the unions. I’d like to see the unions try and run an airline…no doubt wouldn’t want to engage constructively with their employees. The sooner BA get it over and done with, the better.
        Perhaps I’ve missed it, but tell me, what is your financial solution to all this ? Carry on as before, hoping it will go away ? Or give everybody an eye watering 6 months redundancy payment, oh, and keep all your privileges ? Totally ridiculous.

        • Rob says:

          In some ways the EF/WW crew issue is overshadowing everything else though. Virtually EVERY employee at BA is having their pay cut as low as the airline can possibly get it and being asked to sign new contracts which are more onerous than current ones.

          If this was, say, Virgin then you would understand the necessity. BA made almost €2 BILLION last year. If you average 2019 and 2020, it may not be loss making at an operating level (stripping out exceptionals for redundancy etc). I can’t begin to imagine what the environment would be like working for a company where everyone has had their pay cut, especially as we will see spectacular bonuses for top management if this is pushed through.

        • J says:

          6 months redundancy doesn’t sound overly generous, workers in France and Germany get more. Wonder if many of the armchair union critics would fancy working for minimum wage themselves with little to no employment rights? Most people are better off with strong unions decent employment rights.

          • Briand says:

            So, what are you saying ? Just carry as usual ?

          • Briand says:

            And two countries get more, so what …and how many get less, far less ?

          • J says:

            You seem to be arguing for people to get minimal or no redundancy payments? Hope it never happens to you! Or are you safely retired on a final salary pension?

        • Ken says:

          “I’d like to see the unions”

          They literally have an ex pilot union rep. running the airline.

  • Briand says:

    It’s you arguing that two countries get more..I’m just saying how many get less. Your argument, not mine , seems to be that we should be up there with Germany and France….but probably not the rest of Europe, or the rest of the world come to that. You want to try working in the US if you think you’ve got it hard over here.

    • J says:

      Indeed and the lack of holiday. No chance I’d ever work in the US, their lack of employment rights (and healthcare situation) is simply backwards.

      • Lady London says:

        For professionals in the US the practice has been that even though contracts give nothing, actually employers can be pretty decent on separation.

        I know it’s different at lower ranks of jobs though. But then,those people aren’t taxed as heavily as even relatively modest earners in the UK. It’s also possible to do a lot better in the US if you work hard and have a degree of luck.

        Here, we pay actually still quite a lot of tax and I don’t see the normal person getting such good value for the tax they pay. France and Germany pay a bit more, but their states provide more. And not just those two countries.

    • Londonsteve says:

      I think the point here is that France and Germany are proper comparator’s with the UK, being western European countries at a similar level of economic development. It’s true, UK employee protection, from sick pay to maternity leave, redundancy pay, protection from redundancy to begin with, et al, is way behind our peer group in western Europe. We pay European levels of taxation and receive often US levels of protection and benefits. There are many countries in Europe that pay less than the UK, but bear in mind their salaries are often lower and the cost of living can be much lower. Even so, you can find yourself redundant in some central and eastern European countries and discover that your redundancy pay and state unemployment benefit is actually higher when converted to Sterling. It’s rather embarassing to find the UK outranked by Poland, for example.

      • J says:

        Exactly this Steve and ladyluck thanks for making the point better than me 🙂

      • Lady London says:

        .Our pensioners get a fraction of what US pensioners get in mosr US states as well. It’s really quite shocking.

  • Briand says:

    Sorry, didn’t answer your final question, which is always annoying when people don’t answer. Final salary? I wish. Always self employed with my own company…worked very hard, very, and now have a nice house, not multi million, etc.
    Sadly, not enough people have it in them to ‘go it alone,’ which I understand as it’s not for everyone.

    • J says:

      Good for you. As you say it’s not for everyone, and people who do choose to work and serve big companies (in case of BA crew people giving decades of service) deserve a decent redundancy if it comes to that.

  • Andrew says:

    Boris just answered questions from the Liaison Committee about BA using the Job Retention Scheme to furlough staff and then to make them redundant. He responded saying he is aware of this and is concerned about it and “looking into what can be done” as the JRS is not there to keep staff on the books and then get rid of them as soon as it ends and BA is not acting in the spirit of it.

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