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British Airways turns the screw on its pilots over redundancies

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British Airways has turned the screw on its pilots over redundancy plans, despite the hopes of their union that a deal could be reached.

BALPA, the pilots union, is generally seen as the grown-up in the room when it comes to dealing with British Airways.

This doesn’t always work, of course – BALPA caved in on its pay demands last year and its proposed strikes fizzled out – but it sees itself as representing a wealthier group of people than GMB and Unite and acts accordingly.

During the current talks over mass redundancies and pay cuts, BALPA has been talking to British Airways.  It is the only union which has accepted invitations by British Airways to consult over how the necessary cuts can be made.  This has allowed British Airways to put pressure on GMB and Unite over their unwillingness to join discussions over the fate of cabin crew and ground staff.

British Airways turns the screw on its pilots over redundancies

I don’t think anyone believed that BALPA would lead British Airways to change its plans, but there was some hope that the restructuring could be done in as painless a way as possible.

A few days ago, BALPA got a shock.

British Airways issued a new Section 188 notice to the union.  This is the official document which outlines proposed redundancies and starts the legally required 45 day consultation period.

This new Section 188 document had, I believe, two major changes to the original version issued last month:

The number of redundancies has been increased from 955 to 1,080 – plus an additional 175 redundancies which had already been proposed as part of a previous efficiency process

The pilots have now been told that, if agreement between BA and BALPA is not made within 45 days (by 18th July), all pilots may be made redundant and British Airways will decide which pilots will be offered new, inferior, contracts to rejoin

This second element is part of the existing Section 188 letter issued to other parts of British Airways.  It was not in the original Section 188 noticed issued to pilots.

The airline is now looking to get rid of 1,255 of its 4,300 pilots.

BALPA was under the impression that it was making some progress with British Airways.  In a letter, which I have seen, it suggested that:

British Airways was on the verge of agreeing to a voluntary redundancy package for pilots (all other parts of the business will just receive statutory redundancy pay, as will pilots if no agreement is reached)

Agreement was in sight over plans for some pilots to move across to the RAF or to take other roles within the company, with a guarantee that they could return to a flying role after a period

There was a discussion over pilots voluntarily joining the furlough scheme (at present, pilots have voluntarily agreed to work for free for one month but are not furloughed) in return for guarantees over job security.  This would represent a substantial drop in income for most pilots.

These plans may now be dead in the water.  BALPA added that:

“We cannot begin to describe the level of disappointment and annoyance this [new Section 188 letter] has caused.”

In a separate statement, Brian Strutton, General Secretary of BALPA, said:

“This has seriously undermined our talks which now hang by a thread.  It calls into question whether BA is even capable of conducting industrial relations properly and whether anything they say can be trusted.”

If the pilots had thought that they were in a position to get a better deal from the airline than other staff, they don’t think that today.

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Comments (88)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Matthew says:

    I just don’t understand how the sacking and re-hiring is even legal? If your job was a B787 first officer before the redundancy, then surely it’s the same after? I thought you were protected on that basis for 3yrs or so. But clearly I’m no employment law expert and have prob got it all wrong. It makes me want to stop flying BA altogether but that’s not going to help the remaining jobs…

    • Toby says:

      This is perfectly legal (whether it’s ‘right’ is clearly a different subject).

      It’s a common misconception that there are fixed time limits of protection over matters like this, the only time that matters is the consultation period.

      • Matthew says:

        Wow….frightening. Absolutely disgusting quite frankly.

        • The Savage Squirrel says:

          Presumably in such a scenario, the pilot would be entitled to redundancy pay (as they are being laid off then rehired rather than being offered to stay on)?

          • Ian says:

            No, it’s not a redundancy. The employee is being dismissed and re-engaged to do the same job on different terms and conditions.

          • HR Expert says:

            In the trade (I’m a Head of HR at a large company) we call it ‘fire and re-hire’. Perfectly legal, although clearly not what you set out to achieve when starting the process.

      • Naomi says:

        It isn’t perfectly legal. Redundancy means the role disappeared and during the consultation period the employer should demonstrate that they tried all possible options for suitable alternate role to avoid a redundancy and in an event if that is not possible then employer can issue redundancy notice. Collective consultation (more than 20 redundancies) is slightly different.

        Once the redundancy is confirmed and notice is issued and then if the employer rehire someone for the same role (with 6 months, the time period is not defined in the legislation but for tribunal 6 months is taken as minimum period for arbitration)then the redundancy consultation and whole process becomes unlawful. The employees can make an unfair dismissal claim.

        I would have expected ACAS to play moderator role between BA and BALPA but unsure why BALPA haven’t involved them.

        If at all rejoining is an option that BA is considering then they could hire the pilots on a different entity T&Cs like IAG plc or Iberia etc and use them for BA but they cannot be asked resume the same duty for which they were issued redundancy notice as it will be deemed unlawful. Unions don’t get redundancy right always and it requires some detailed understanding as the legislation around redundancy is written fairly light specially around consultation process, period etc which are more custom & practice in many occasions rather than legislations requirement.

        • Concerned For The Future says:

          Your opinion or fact? Genuine question. A source would be a useful addition.

        • Spk says:

          Unfair what? Unfairly paid more than market rate?

        • Ian says:

          You clearly have no knowledge of HR issues. BA is proposing two different courses of action. The first is redundancy – it wants to reduce the number of staff so it proposes to make them redundant and not replace them. The second is a desire to reduce the terms and conditions of those who remain. They will not be redundant, they will simply be asked to consent to new terms and conditions. If they refuse, BA can ultimately dismiss them and offer to re-engage them on new terms and conditions. But before it can do that, it would have to have a further consultation on its proposal to dismiss and re-engage. So, all perfectly legal.

          • Naomi says:

            Everyone has their view but there is a legality in the process. If you are blindfolded and look at the process then everything is legal to your eyes.

            Redundancy is one of the complex employment legislation matter and I’m not hear to argue who is an expertise in this subject. That’s why I mentioned it is an arbitrary subject and my point is you cannot hire a person for a role that has been redundant which was article reference. I’m not part of BA consultation process nor representating BALPA and I’m just sharing my experience on situation like this based on the scenario presented in this article. Humble request, Don’t make judgement at one’s profession without knowing them !!

        • AJA says:

          Naomi BA are doing two things at the same time, some staff (12,000) will be made redundant, the remainder will have their employment on existing contract terminated and immediately rehired on a new contract. This is perfectly legal if morally dubious.

          You do not have a right to permanent employment, you and your employer both have the right to end the existing contract and renegotiate a new one. Both sides just have to comply with the termination provisions in the existing contract of employment, usually giving the required notice is all it takes but you don’t have to serve the notice period, an employer will usually pay in lieu of notice. As an employee you can simply withdraw your Labour and forgo your entitlement to be paid and leave immediately.

          • Naomi says:

            That’s absolutely fine and a lawful process. Contract variation during any part of employment is possible including redundancy consultation phase. As long as both parties mutually agree. BA can either avoid redundancy by making alternate role with or without variation to the current contract but you cannot make them redundant and rehire them for the same role which exposes the gap in the redundancy process. Likewise, BA can settle those at risk to get away with the consultation and rehire them as the claim risk is nullified by the settlement agreement.

            Fixed term and contract workers with less than 2 years of continuous length of service have no option other than to accept the offer from BA as they may be better off rather than losing the job. It is still hard depending on the level of compromise.

            Redundancy consultation is not as straight forward as one would think as the individual scenario and the way the role redundancy is positioned by the employer matters. One can talk for and against the same scenario depending on how they would play it to their defence that’s why most redundancy cases go to tribunal and many settled of the court. Tribunal also look at custom and practice while they uphold the legislation rights.

          • Chris Heyes says:

            AJA@ Totally Agree with you a very long while ago I worked for a firm for 10 years no problem but a “new” HR decided i couldn’t be treated any different than other employees (i disagreed)
            He told me from next week i would work overtime like every one else.
            I said “What” well i’m off Now got my jacket my manager said you can’t just leave your part of a team we can’t work the shift. You have to Work your notice i said watch me,lol
            Walked out said send me my p45 and left never went back n yes maybe lost some money they might have owed me.
            My next Job i was there 19 years 8 months (still not working overtime) that was my last job
            as said other posts retired at 50 (72 now) 22 bril retirement years up to now lol
            I’M sure some bosses would call me a B####D & YES last 8 months i was put under pressure to work overtime but didn’t lol (one manager in particular) Rest of Managers actually liked me
            for various reasons (i was a quality controller) if i so that a Manager had made a mistake i would quietly take him to one side let him know and it never went any further. allowing him to not only correct it but it was “HIM” that spotted it. but of course in a very large company there is always one manager lol he just didn’t like the fact i could and did say no lol

  • Sam Wardill says:

    Customer service is going to appalling with so many disgruntled staff

    • Bob says:

      Already appalling in my case 12 weeks down tithe line and still waiting for my refund from 19th March after numerous calls etc now doing a chargeback with BA Amex

  • Bergan87 says:

    When will the BA Pilots learn to stand together with the rest of the BA workforce? It’s depressingly familiar that they go it alone to look after themselves. They’ve now seen that they are held with the same contempt as the rest of BA. Come together, show leadership, join forces and be united in stopping these draconian measures from the bullies at the top of IAG and Brutish Airways – Walsh and Cruz. #BAtogether

  • Duck Ling says:

    There is a large part missing from this article as to the reason WHY BALPA has been talking to BA.

    As part of the legalities of a company issuing a redundancy notice there HAS to be ‘meaningful consultation’ between the company and trade unions.

    BALPA are representing pilots. Pilots are about the only group within BA not furloughed as part of the government Job Retention Scheme. They are still ‘at work’.

    Unite and GMB however are representing an almost entirely furloughed workforce. In fact many of the union reps that are also serving staff are furloughed. Unite and GMB’s position is that it is impossible to have ‘meaningful consultation’ whilst most of the staff (and reps) have been furloughed.

    • Mr(s) Entitled says:

      Glad to read that there is a reason beyond representing a “wealthier and better educated group of people” for the divergence.

      • Cho Sun says:

        Lol yes. ‘Wealthier’ – likely. ‘Better educated’ – definitely up for debate. Almost anyone with the money required to train as a pilot can do so. AFAIK airlines do not require a level of education generally above and beyond high school.

      • Doug M says:

        I had a good smirk and eye roll at that.

    • Jonathan says:

      “ In fact many of the union reps that are also serving staff are furloughed. Unite and GMB’s position is that it is impossible to have ‘meaningful consultation’ whilst most of the staff (and reps) have been furloughed.”

      I’m not a fan of the way BA is going about this but I’m afraid what you say is not accurate. BA have maintained that they will unfurlough any union rep immediately they request it. The legal position is also quite clear in that engaging in union activity or the consultation process is allowed whilst furloughed.

      Unite & GMB’s legal challenge was always an act of desperation as they clearly felt they wouldn’t be able to achieve any concessions through negotiation. Understandable but pointless & I believe they have pretty much accepted this now.

    • AJA says:

      Jonathan is correct. Union activities are still possible while furloughed and BA will unfurlough union reps specifically to allow them to engage. Thus far the union hasn’t engaged with BA but there has been plenty of communication with union members. There’s a thread on FT where BA employees relay communications they have received. There are a fair number of disgruntled BA staff unhappy with their union’s actions.

      This latest action with BALPA is not really surprising given the continuing impact of flight cancellations. I fear that BA will reduce the number of routes they fly to as well as the frequency of flights, along with continued reductions in facilities and service on board and I also think negative changes to BAEC must be in the pipeline.

      Unfortunately BA holds all the cards in this game of poker and they look like they will get away with it. After the recent improvements it is just a slap on the face.

      What a mess, I feel very sorry for all BA staff.

  • Misha says:

    We are always told that while being a member of the EU we have very good employment laws to protect against this?
    Why are the EU not stopping this?
    This is very unfair.

    • ChrisBCN says:

      Uhhhh no UK employment laws are weak in European terms, and will likely get weaker under the ‘cutting red tape’ trope.

      • ChrisBCN says:

        Should be a , after the no, otherwise the meaning is confused!

  • Kevin says:

    The full letter was posted on flyertalk around 6pm yesterday, if anybody cares to read it in its entirety.

  • Yuff says:

    Isn’t it a strange world, wasn’t it about a year ago they were planning a summer of strikes over school holidays and bank holidays, to leverage their negotiating position, whilst showing no sympathy for families who had worked hard all year planning and saving for a holiday?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      And they didn’t go through with it in the end because of that exact reason

    • AJA says:

      +1 Funny old world

      Imagine if they had won any concessions last year, I’d imagine the changes BA are now proposing would be even less well received.

    • Aston100 says:

      Yup, hence they get no sympathy from me.
      Unions are outdated in the modern world where employment law now exists.
      I doubt very much that unions were created to assist people on six figure salaries.

  • Peter says:

    I strongly believe that there is a flight safety issue here which needs to be addressed. There have been many very serious ground related incidents since lockdown caused by distraction of ground operators working under extreme pressure.

    Now pilots will be expected to operate having received notice that they are to be fired. This is extremely unsafe. Many have been under intense strain over the last three months. BA cover themselves by offering a Weelbeing App or by finishing each flight ops email with a ‘fly safe’!!

    BA should have its AOC removed by the CAA until this is sorted out. It’s just too unsafe to fly over UK territory. We will have a ramp up in the number of serious airborne incidents and BAs record is not sparkling in that department as it stands. We could also have another ‘German Wings’ incident. Please keep my anonymity for obvious reasons but please do raise this safety issue to the highest levels. Thank you.

    • Lady London says:

      Hold on. Did you just say don’t fly with BA because pilots are under so much stress that they might lose their jobs, that they might deliberately fly a plane into a mountain?

      My advice to any pilot feeling this way is to go to your doctor now and get signed off on sick leave. Doctors are used to seeing this kind of thing. There are fairly standard amounts of time they can give you. Note that legally a doctor is not required to state what type of illness or injury you’ve been signed off for, on any sick note/certificate. They just specify the time you are signed off for and will renew if necessary. Neither you nor your doctor is required to say what exactly you are being signed off for. Could be anything the employer has no right to know
      (I’m assuming that right has not had to be signed away somewhere – not surw if it can be)

      • Briand says:

        Take no notice, too many people come on here with one off comments, never to be heard of again.

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