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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.

  • Naomi says:

    @Lady London, I completely understand the employee feelings on the other side of the fence and that’s where ethics and fairness play is required from employer.

    Let me give some insights to the redundancy process. Thumb rule is redundancy = non existence of a role, defining the role is where the employers legal counsel & HR head use their expertise to make it look absolutely lawful but that’s not right always. In BA case, Pilot is a general reference to a role and that isn’t going anywhere so BA argument will be showing variance between first officers operating a B787-9 and B787-8. Common man can argue they are same family of planes and B787-8 first officer can also fly B787-9 but employer rep would show the technical variance or any other skills/ duties to differentiate that they both are different roles and make you believe. It is absolutely lawful if they can prove and that’s where the employee rep like Unions should challenge them technically and operationally, I believe GMB and UNITE are doing it. It is an arbitrary point!!

    Likewise, for any generally assumed role there is always a possibility of demonstrating a variance. Another example, Bus driver driving a normal 32 seater and double decker are different could be an argument from employer for redundancy reasons.

    Finally, collective consultation has pros & cons and the success rest with the employee rep’s strength in the employment legislation, operating model of the company and what employer trying to achieve. This can make a consultation very interesting!!

    Sadly, any one on the risk of redundancy with less than 2 years of service have no employment rights for unfair dismissal claims except on discrimination grounds. Always know your employment rights.

    • b says:

      So as someone with no employment knowledge then taken to an extreme then you could in theory say that Euro are only licenced for A319/320 and WW only for 777/787 plus maybe one of 380/350/747 whereas MF are licenced…for A319/320 and 777/787 plus one of 747/380/350 so in theory MF could come out on top based on immediate business needs being licenced for Long /short haul trips from day one of any new T&Cs

      Suspect the reality of who is let go and who stays has already been decided in draft by BA or at least the criteria within any employment law.

      It is just a shame that UNITE want to spend so much time being negative about BA with their BA betryal campaign whether deserved or not as opposed to representing their members in any meaningful or not discussions . Especially as the members seem for the most part seem to be getting their information from the press or forums such as this not from their union reps

      Above only my personal opinion/view basically thinking aloud.

    • Joe M says:

      I’ve read your comments and mostly concur. However, isn’t the defining point that “the business is significantly diminished” which effectively gives them license to ensure the survival of the company, taking precedence above everything else ?

  • Jonny Price says:

    Whatever the unions do or say (whether the slightly more pragmatic pilots’ union or the less pragmatic other unions), they seem to be in denial of the crisis that faces the industry. All airlines will be smaller – so there will be fewer people required in all roles. All airlines will need to be more efficient going forward if they ever want to return to profitability – and that means above market rate contracts can no longer be justified. These businesses are losing millions everyday and cannot afford to pay generous redundancy packages or spend months going round in circles with stubborn unions, hence the clause to force through changes if there is a failure to agree (which is perfectly legal at the end of a consultation period). I can’t understand why the unions, politicians and media are banging on about BA “betraying Britain” (and other such nonsense) – when all they are doing is bringing their contracts in line with other UK airlines.

    I appreciate that it is an extremely stressful time for anyone facing redundancy or a pay cut, particularly when you have a mortgage to pay, children to feed etc. But this is not unique to BA pilots – many professions in many industries will be doing the same. It is a direct result of a global pandemic that is leading to an economic crisis. So if you’re going to blame anything – blame the virus.

    • J says:

      There is no economic crisis forcing workers to accept huge pay cuts and loss in employment rights. The virus, like the financial crisis will be used to enrich a few and further erode rights and pay for everyone else. Don’t be a useful idiot for that tiny elite.

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Jonny Price@ An alternative would be with your logic Make everybody in the county have a maximum wage of say £50k tops for a 20 hour week. half the people work the first half of the week the other half work the second half of the week.
      Full employment
      No one allowed to work any overtime to keep full employment
      That would allow the Government to make various adjustments housing ect
      I see your logic & agree with you to a degree lol

  • Aston100 says:

    I don’t think unions were created back in the day to protect people on six figure salaries.

    • Charlieface says:

      Yes they were: the union bosses! Unions were always a mafia.

      • J says:

        Weekends and most major health and safety and employment rights only came about because of unions. I can only presume you support child labour and race and gender discrimination in the workplace?

        • TeessideTraveller says:

          You are absolutely correct but the world has moved on since those days and the trouble is that unions haven’t moved with it.

          • J says:

            The UK has steadily became more and more unequal since the decline of trade unions. The UK has some of the richest and poorest regions in Western Europe – more unequal than France, Germany, Netherlands etc and it’s getting worse. Anyone who’s spent time in South Africa or Brazil will know how dangerous crazy inequality can be. The London riots were a good example of what can happen when a large number of people figure they’ve got nothing to lose…

        • Charlieface says:

          That’s a complete straw man argument. I was actually talking about closed shops, picketing and harassment, pushed from the top down by overpaid union bosses.
          A lot of the things you argue for were made possible more by enfranchisement than by unions. Equally the unions had transformed by the 70s becoming too big for their boots.

          • Ralph says:

            The unions have been very smart and acted in the best interests of workers in some industries such a car manufacturing resulting in considerable job creation, better conditions, skills training etc. The factories may be mainly foreign owned – JLR, Nissan, BMW/Mini etc. but they employ a lot of people here.

            BA has had very poor industrial relations, but this is largely because of the legacy staff constantly fighting to retain their privileges of unsustainable salaries, pensions, working conditions. The unions flight for them rather than the broader employees. Those staff have threatened to go on strike, been on strike or had mass sickies at the worst time for the company and passengers; now the tables are turned. It is grossly unfair on the newer employees and mixed fleet that there are so many people doing essentially the same job as them on 2, 3, even 4 x salary.

            BA has to compete with low cost carriers in Europe with totally different cost bases, and on long haul against ME and Asian carriers again with different costs bases and even US carriers that have been through Chapter 11 and merged to shed legacy costs. BA absolutely needs to reduce its staff costs to sustain itself, reinvest in the product (eg Club Suite) and new aircraft.

            BA has the added problem of its pension deficit that continues to swallow £300m/year a staggering burden.

            What is happening now is rather brutal and unpleasant but if you were running BA you wouldn’t have much choice and, indeed if you are a member of staff that wants the company to have a biright future or a passenger that wants better aircraft, better Club, better lounges etc. you should be wholeheartedly supporting what is going on now.

          • Ralph says:

            @Lady London the pension deficit is still very much a live issue. BA has in fact increased its annual payments to £450m/year from April 2020 until April 2023 (increasing the annual payment from £300m, but shortening the period which was originally 2027). At current gilt yields, there will still be a huge deficit at the next valuation. You refer to offloading chunks of pension, but obviously you can only do that by going bust or paying someone to take it off your hands, the cash cost of which would be immense and probably unaffordable so the pension issue is something that will be a millstone round BA’s neck forever. LH suffers from it too, but the principal short haul & long haul competitors do not. Starting your year at -£450m is pretty tough in a low margin, cut throat industry.

          • Rob says:

            If you have a pension deficit, it is because you didn’t pay enough into it originally. Most big companies also took several years of ‘pension holidays’ whenever the fund was more than the projected liability, totally ignoring the fact that any drop in the market would immediately create a deficit.

            Even now, any increase in bond yields will quickly see deficits reversed.

  • Bloggs says:

    Many of you are missing a couple of points. The airline says it cannot pay due to lack of funds. Untrue. They (IAG) have diverted millions from BA into Iberia, Vuelling and Level. None of these companies are hitting their employees in the same way as BA are hitting their own staff. BA is only where it is today because of the following…hard working staff, ( pilots fly at least 30% more than Virgin for example, Cabin Crew the same. And the rest of the teams, engineering, ground staff are all working flat out to meet very difficult targets)Blogs. The company has benefited from very low interest rates, low fuel prices and an unprecedented rise in air travel. Cost cutting has been savage and both the brand and the product damaged. The bosses have done nothing which could be described as innovative , they have taken zero personal risk, yet pay themselves, remember..they are employees too, huge salaries, massive bonuses etc., etc. But, before you all jump up and down, think about this…….
    If, and they will, get away with sacking virtually the entire staff and rehire under hugely reduced salaries, every other CEO is going to watch to see what if anything will be the fallout, and if they believe they too can get away with behaving in this manner, they too will follow suit, and that could well affect you all.

    • Ralph says:

      So what would you do if you were running a company that had lost 95% of its revenues, still carrying huge staff and aircraft leasing/maintenance costs etc. and very little visibility for the future. Have all the staff sit at home on full pay waiting to see what happens?

  • Briand says:

    @j And your suggestion is ? Pinch the best bits of each region ? And where are we as a region ? The worst ? And how would you measure it ?

    Having worked in parts of both S America and Asia, we always tried hard…very, to do the right thing, when it came to pay and support. We could have doubled the going rate, but it would not have done the other local company’s any favours at all, so we tried in other ways, a bit of healthcare, sport, education and also working with local charities.

  • Wall says:

    Is there nothing in EU employment laws to stop this? I was expecting some sort of protection.

  • William Boyd says:

    Be interesting to see if Iberia and other staff of IAG are targeted like BA staff, somehow I don’t think so do you? It would also be interesting to find out if BA took pension contributions holidays in the past whilst making staff divi up their contributions year on year. Making everybody ‘redundant’ then rehiring is an abuse of process and subvertingbthe law. In redundancy it is the job that goes, somhow come all,these new jobs appear. IAG make me sick, they have destroyed the BA brand and service before this latest calumny.

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