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Is civil war brewing for British Airways pilots and union BALPA?

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When British Airways and pilot union BALPA announced an agreement to keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum, it made BALPA look like the grown up in the room.

Whilst Unite was posturing over cabin crew redundancies and refusing to negotiate, BALPA had apparently acheived something useful. Unite’s Len McCluskey ended up publicly begging Alex Cruz to give his members the same deal.

Pilots are unhappy with BALPAs deal with British Airways

And yet …..there are now rumours of internal strife between British Airways pilots and BALPA over what was agreed.

As we explained in this article, the BALPA deal involved a package of pay cuts, unpaid leave and contributions to fund a long term group of furloughed pilots. The overall impact was to reduce the number of compulsory redundancies from over 1,250 to a target of just over 200. In reality, the number of compulsory redundancies was higher – 250 – due to fewer requests than expected for voluntary severence.

Although the deal is done, the repercussions will rumble on for much longer.

Why are some pilots unhappy with the BALPA deal?

The problems appear to stem from two areas.

Firstly, there are allegations – which for legal reasons I must stress remain just that – that certain BALPA representatives shared information with British Airways. If true, this could mean that BALPA did not necessarily achieve the optimum deal possible. It is probably best that I leave this aspect of the story at that.

The second problem is more fundamental.

New recruits have accused BALPA of operating as an ‘old boys network’, primarily concerned with the welfare of long serving British Airways pilots. The remainder feel that they have been thrown under the bus.

How are the British Airways pilot fleets structured?

It is well known that British Airways cabin crew had two fleets – the low paid ‘Mixed Fleet’ hired in the last decade, and the legacy crew hired before that. ‘Mixed Fleet’ salaries start at around £16,000 before allowances, whilst legacy crew earn, at the very top end, up to £80,000 all-in.

British Airways pilots also operate on, broadly speaking, two sets of contractual terms.

When BA bought bmi British Midland, there was concern that it would be used to set up a low cost short haul carrier similar to Iberia Express. This would have had separate pilots and crew on poorer contracts than mainline staff.

To avoid this, BALPA agreed that all pilots hired from 2012 would be hired on new inferior terms.

Why do the new BA pilots feel unfairly treated?

BA pilots hired before 2012 are on a 24 year pay scale. From the day you joined, it would take 24 years to reach the maximum possible salary.

This changed in 2012. New entrants have to work for 34 years to achieve maximum pay.

There was some justification for this. The retirement age for pilots was lifted from 55 years to 65 years, so moving from a 24 year to a 34 year pay scale made sense.

The real winners, however, were the existing pilots. These staff were expected to hit peak earnings at around 50-55, just before enforced retirement. When the retirement age was pushed out to 65, they could look forward to an extra decade earning the maximum possible salary. This caused issues further down the chain, because with more pilots earning the maximum possible pay it left less money for the remainder.

Another issue has been the way pay rises have been applied. Pilot pay settlements have led to fixed percentage rises for both sets of contracts. This exacerbates the difference, since a 5% rise leads to a far greater increase in take home pay for someone earning many multiples of what a new entrant earns. The compounding effect of these increases over the years means that the gap between pilots on the two different contracts increases sharply over time.

New pilots have been given the short straw

If you read my older articles on BALPA’s deal with BA, you will know that there is a major element of ‘last in, first out’ about it. The redundancy settlement agreed with the airline was about preserving the jobs of long serving pilots at the expense of new recruits.

Logically – since pilots are on a fixed pay scale – this meant that those pilots who remain are the highest paid. It is possible more jobs could have been saved if redundancies had been split equally across high and low earners, not just low earners.

‘Last in, first out’ also fails to recognise the reality of pilot life today.

Many ‘lifer’ British Airways pilots had their training funded by the airline. Today, most pilots pay for their own training and run up personal debt of over £100,000. Redundancy will push many into financial hardship.

The furlough fund also seems biased against new recruits

The BALPA deal involves all pilots taking a 16% pay cut. Whilst 8% is a saving for British Airways, the remaining 8% will be deducted from pilot pay to fund over 300 pilots on long term furlough.

This seems altruistic. The logistics don’t work, however.

A post-2012 pilot is giving up 8% of their modest salary to allow an experienced pilot to sit at home for two years on up to 66% of their usual earnings. However, the pilot sat at home will be receiving more money than the post-2012 pilot who is still employed.

It is the equivalent, although less extreme, of Mixed Fleet cabin crew on £22,000 all-in being asked to hand over 8% of their pay so that, at the very top end, an £80,000 Customer Service Director from the legacy fleet can be furloughed for two years on a £53,000 salary.

Overall, the pain of redundancy falls disproportionately on:

those earning the lowest salaries

those on the 34 year pay scale vs the 24 year pay scale

those who paid £100,000+ for their training vs those whose training was funded by British Airways

those on contributory pensions vs those on generous final salary pension schemes

Conclusion – where now?

It isn’t clear where this story goes next. I am told that there are rumblings within the pilot community of a walk-out of post-2012 pilots from BALPA, which is seen as only representing the ‘old boys’ network. The fall out from the rumoured sharing of information with the airline by BALPA representatives is still to come.

What it does mean is that the story we believed – that BALPA, BA and the pilots had come together and found an agreement which was acceptable to all parties – was possibly not the whole truth.

Comments (135)

  • John says:

    I note that you are happy to publish cabin crew salaries in the article but Pilot salaries aren’t published.

    The suggested cabin crew salary is completely laughable and incorrect, I’m not sure what source your getting the 80K figure from, in reality it’s more like 30K if were lucky.

    • Rob says:

      There are ex-legacy CSDs, mainly who came into BA from some of the older acquisitions, on £80k packages. Not many, but they exist.

      I don’t have the pilot pay scale data.

      This isn’t about cabin crew anyway!

  • Bagoly says:

    Based purely on what you have written, I think two points you make rest on mutually exclusive assumptions.

    If the scheduling means that sit-at-home is skewed more towards more junior (and so less highly paid) pilots then it looks as though the 8%+8% is MORE likely to cover the 66% of the cheaper staff?
    I completely see the issue about career progression for junior pilots, but this “economics won’t work argument” seems more likely to originate from BA because they would be paying out more than if sit-at-home had more senior pilots.

    • Rob says:

      No. The junior plots have been fired. The ‘sit at home’ group are more senior, in general, because they are the ones who were flying the 747s and A380s.

  • Crew 43 says:

    In the interest of fair reporting can I politely ask why Mixed Fleet basic salary for junior crew is compared with the top salary (including variable pay) of a handful of senior legacy crew who probably joined 40+ years ago?
    Maybe, fairness suggest you compare highest legacy junior crew basic of 25K with highest mixed fleet junior crew 16K!

    • Rob says:

      This isn’t about cabin crew!

      • Grant says:

        Then why was it necessary to publish their salaries?

        • Rob says:

          To make the example of why funding furlough is a bad deal for staff on new contracts.

          • Dan says:

            BALPA did point that out to BA. A pp24 captain taking VR would reduce the wage bill sufficiently to save several new joiners. BA insisted one pp24 captain would only save one junior pilot from CR. BA played a MPE game, not a salary/cost game. You’re assuming Balpa was negotiating with a rational employer.

            As for comparing salaries – see Julie’s post, previous page.

          • Dan says:

            But is it a bad deal for new joiners to fund furlough? Without it, 300 extra junior pilots would be facing CR. Secondly, a pp3 FO is funding £3,300 per year towards CRS. A pp24 longhaul captain is funding closer to £15,200. Proportinately it’s the same. However, it has saved 300 extra pilots, those junior ones you claim this is so unfair against, from losing their job.

      • Dan says:

        Correct, it isn’t – so stop trying to compare Mixed Fleet main crew salaries with paypoint 24 longhaul captains!

        • Rob says:

          We’re not.

        • insider says:

          I think BA are right. BA needs X number of pilots. It doesn’t matter if a pp24 captain takes VR, BA doesn’t need the 3 new joiners to fly its schedule, just 1. Having more than that makes no sense from a business point of view.

  • Mike Allen says:

    That’s a very well written article. BALPA has traditionally favored seniority in its dealings with BA. The argument goes that, as BA is viewed as a long term career for most pilots, everyone will eventually benefit when they reach the ‘sunny uplands’ of the seniority list. With the relentless pressure on costs and T&Cs within the airline industry in recent times, that narrative may no longer hold true, so it’s not surprising that junior pilots may not buy in to the deal any more.

    • Dan says:

      Mike, how would you suggest Balpa structure the deal to better, or fairer?

      • Doug M says:

        You clearly have a lot more inside knowledge of this matter than the article has provided. One thing I do have a problem with is the fairness of LIFO, perpetuates the lack of opportunity for newer people.
        It does seem from comments here and on other forums that Unite and BALPA are both perceived as protecting the long term members at the expense of newer members.

        • Dan says:

          Doug,

          How would you change the system to make it “fairer”?

          • Doug M says:

            Tricky, always easier to knock something than suggest alternates. But possibly some mix of airline choice, union choice, and a random draw, or possibly a draw weighted in favour of service or performance review. We both know there’s not going to be a perfect solution when people are losing their jobs, but simple LIFO is I think very unfair.

          • Dan says:

            The matrix used did take into account performance/disciplinaries as well as length of service.

            But random draw? How is that fair to a 787 captain with 25 years service?

            LIFO, ultimately, is the least worst way. This is the first time ever BA has had to make pilots redundant (CR) and hopefully the last.

          • Rob says:

            Not if you are throwing that person into a financial crisis because they now owe £100k of training debt and have little hope of getting another role, vs keeping on legacy staff on far higher packages and who didn’t pay for their training.

            Anyway, you have probably seen similar data to me about September bookings – which are effectively zero across BA – and the plans for deactivating another 20 777s, so the chance of no more pilot redundancies looks slim.

          • Doug M says:

            But that’s what I disagree with. I don’t think 25 years service should just trump 2 years service.

          • Lady London says:

            @Doug M I think 25 years service *should* trump 2 years service.

            If you want to help the guys out with training bills then BALPA has saved more of them than BA would have. Perhaps BALPA could have got some help for that built into VR package for those they couldn’t save.

            As a passenger I know which pilot I want in charge when 1 of the 2 engines has failed in the middle of the Indian Ocean and the remaining one has started leaking oil in a storm too high and too close to fly round.

            Yup in the absence of more specific information about both pilots I want the one with 25 years to be flying me.

          • Nick says:

            LL to be honest I’d rather have the pilot who had most recently been given that kind of scenario in a training/sim recency check, rather than the one who’s 11 months after their annual checks, given that neither has likely faced anything similar in 25 years of flying. Plenty of oldies around who can’t remember what they had for breakfast, let alone serious training from 3 decades ago.

          • Dan says:

            Doug, for pilots 25 years does trump 2 years, and rightly so. You can’t buy that experience and a 2 year FO is not ready to take command of a widebody aircraft.

            For pilots, if you change airline, you start again at the bottom of the seniority list, at the bottom of the payscale. It’d be like telling a consultant oncologist at Guys hospital that he’d have to start over as a junior doctor if he transfered to Eastbourne hospital. That’s why LIFO is fair. It’d be impossible for a captain with 25 years service to rebuild their career to the same point. But someone that’s been in 18 months won’t have an issue rebuilding to that point eventually. Also, no one with more than 2 years service was made CR – you can thank UK employment law for that coincidence.

            Balpa is not an old boys club – it saved nearly 1000 jobs, many of them junior pilots, from altruism from the rest of the pilots. They didn’t need to give up 8% of their pay to keep 300 pilots employed but they did because that’s all BA would let them pay for. Balpa offered a variety of savings to save every job but BA refused.

            There’s a reason why airlines use LIFO and there’s a reason 25 years trumps 2 years. There’s never an easy solution when it comes to redundancy but LIFO for pilots is the least worst.

          • Doug M says:

            @Dan. From a practical point continually favouring long service over less service will over time give you a big problem. Why does 25 years trump 2 years, on what basis?
            @LL. Two engines fail over the middle of the Indian Ocean you have a problem no matter how many years the pilots have 🙂

      • Mike Allen says:

        Not an easy question to answer, but I think there will be much less certainty around career security and income in the long term amongst junior pilots than there was maybe 10 or 20 years ago, hence their reluctance to take what they perceive as a disproportionate share of the pain now. I don’t propose a solution; I’m just conscious of their perspective.

  • David says:

    How many pilots took voluntary redundancy (VR)?

  • Novice says:

    Seems like in the job market it’s a crime being young…

    On another note, what can anyone actually expect than an old boys’ network. We have a government that seems to be mostly made up of posh school educated men who were all mates in school.🙄

    • Andrew says:

      I think you’ll find Nicola Sturgeon is a woman, grew up on a rough Council Estate in Ayr and went to a rough state school…

    • Lady London says:

      @Novice that is not fair.

      Even when I was very young I always knew those with more years experience could bring things I simply did not have yet no matter how talented and hardworking I was. The difference between them and now is it was perfectly acceptable to say so. There is a difference.

      Having said that I agree with @Doug M LIFO is a blunt instrument and it’s fairer if things like performance, attendance, disciplinaries, need to meet quotas, and life situation can be input into the selection too (though just LIFO is safer leg ground).

      • Lady London says:

        “leg”=legal

      • Dan says:

        Performance and disciplinaries were taken into account. As were things such as extra skills like TRE/TRI qualifications. It wasn’t straight up LIFO.

        • Jay says:

          Dan, I wonder if you know how many were caught by non-LIFO criteria? The answer is two. 2 of 249 were caught by performance and disciplinaries. Arguably, the stage they were at in those individual processes might have led to being laid off anyway. Disciplinaries and performance on *all* levels were not considered, only at the extreme end. The criteria was formed to sack the bottom 249, excluding a nominal number to make it legal and unable to be challenged in court (compulsory redundancy matrix have to create a pool that aren’t selected purely on LIFO, for age discrimination reasons).

      • Doug M says:

        LL. But equally how many times have you seen people with experience just shout down good ideas from less experienced staff. Over the years I sat through so many meetings where poor staff with ‘years in’ just watched which way the wind was blowing and went with it. Age and experience are no guarantees against stupidity from what I’ve seen. In regard to pilots I just think that retaining an equal measure across the experience range gives you a fairer balance. LIFO will eventually leave you with a pool of declining people. Experience has its benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. If 2 years means not ready to captain a wide body so be it, I don’t know about the technical needs, but does it really work if everyone’s a captain in both seats because you dumped all the lower ranks.

        • Lady London says:

          I think we’ve sat through years of the same meetings @Doug M. I agree there’s a lot of deadwood about, same as you. Would you go for FIFO?

          Redundancies cant work out fairly, I’ve seen some nasty ones, but here I think the pilots have pulled off something and BA has gone as far as it commercially can to keep more pilots on the payroll right now than they originally planned.

          I’ve been on 2 BA planes in the past couple of days, not sure Unite is going to keep its members but Mixed Fleet staff members said very relieved and glad they personally still had a job.

          Lots of people in other industries get busted like this and have to start again, it’s just luck. How you yourself adapt to these circumstances is what will make the difference to your outcome. But no it’s not fair but people in other industries may be having it even harder.

  • Iñaki Blanco says:

    This article is about pilots!! Why is there no information about PILOTS salaries??? It is wrong to compare cabin crew salaries as it is not relevant to this article. A very unfair article I’m afraid.

    • Rob says:

      Send me the pilot pay scales and I will publish them.

      • Dan says:

        Why? What point would you be proving by publishing the various pilot payscales?

        • Rob says:

          It will shut up the cabin crew who keep moaning that we discuss cabin crew pay 🙂

  • uk1 says:

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for taking the trouble to give your best to a highly complex but interesting situation. Your precis could never hit a perfect spot for all who are in the middle of this and have different views but I suspect you gave a really great flavour of the complex issues. So just wanted to show some love.

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