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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)

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  • pigeon says:

    Shrewd move on BA’s part – let the union push through an obviously unfair deal, then sit back and watch the union implode. Once this has happened they can make more of the high-earning senior pilots redundant and dramatically reduce their cost base.

    • uk1 says:

      Have you really thought that really daft conspiracy theory through?

      • Doug M says:

        I don’t suppose BA planned it, so conspiracy theory is a bit strong. But from the outside the BA management look a whole lot more unified than the ironically named Unite. In terms of BALPA I ‘know’ nothing, but it seems from forum posts that BALPA is another union like Unite regarded by some members as preserving the old boys jobs at the expense of the newcomers.

        • uk1 says:

          Your reply has little in common with the daft proposition I replied to.

  • Jo Muir says:

    Its a ploy by Unite to deflect attention from their total lack of even talking to BA until it was too late… Discredit a good out come to cover up their bad one..

  • Chedzer says:

    BA has not given all volunteers severance and the majority of pilots self funded their training mostly by bank loan.

  • Tim W. says:

    Does anyone remember the World’s Favourite Airline?

  • K says:

    Legacy Crew at the top end do not earn £80,000? Complete fabrication. Some crew have worked to the top of their agreed pay scales as have the pilots. New crew & pilots will never enjoy those same benefits even if substantial profits return in the future! BA in the last 15 years has stopped rewarding its hard working staff.

    • 351 says:

      Yes they do. True there might not be many of them. But when BA publicly state themselves that average legacy BASIC pay is £56K (from which they’ll protect 80%), 80K assumption, even if only a very small number, cannot be misconstrued as fabrication just because it doesn’t play well with yours or Unite’s line.

      • Anthony king says:

        I’m legacy crew and I guarantee you I am not half way that salary. I might have 80% promised by BA but at the end it will be more, im loosing 8 annual leave i earned in 25yrs, less 2 days off a month, forced 3 weeks unpaid leave a year and reduction of allowances while downroute. So it sums up to nearly 40% paycut

        • Mikeact says:

          40%, of what ?

        • Lady London says:

          Have you still got a job, though, @Anthony King? then in these times we’ve got coming I’d rate you winner. You’ve done the most important thing and stayed in the game.

          Many, many people are going to be far worse off than you. Now keep your head down for the next few years, Eventually it will turn and you will have something to play for.

      • Ken says:

        The £56k you quote is for a pre 2010 Worldwide Cabin Service Director.

        Main crew legacy basic would be about £30k

  • Andy says:

    At least Unite the union got something for you, old boys or not front line ground staff have been shafted yet again not trendy enough for maclusky or beckett to give a toss about and never have done a load of my colleague’s now have to consider selling our houses and moving in with our parents or down sizing after working all those years working hard to achieve what we have.. Unions have no back bone and move this is one fight unite had to win for every worker out there unfortunately they have failed big time… Just watch the corporate company’s watching swoop and ruin more live nation wide… Hope your happy unite

    • Nick says:

      Maybe you can use your new-found time to learn basic spelling and grammar, in the hope it can help you secure a new job.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    I Must admit i’m baffled by what i read on here, surely the aim of getting a mortgage is to pay it off as quickly as possible
    Also getting a credit card to use for your advantage not a credit card company ?
    i pay off my Amex cards every month (in fact make mutable payments during the month) negative balance end of month
    i teach my children to pay extra on their mortgage each month so its paid off in 15/20 years (i say pay off in 15 makes life a doddle)
    I’M amazed when i read about pilots/cabin crew struggling to make mortgage payments
    yes i know London is more expensive but so are wages
    my sons house cost £25000 outside London (north)
    I bought my house in 12 years plus 2 timeshare apartments “The Osbourne” Torquay (Plus now same house and a flat)
    What are people doing with their money nowadays ?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Im not going to pretend to know everyones circumstances but the housing market is a very different beast to what it was.

      Think what multiple of your wages your house cost when you were a first time buyer. Now look at what it costs in the Midlands vs the average wage.

      The Median wage in 2000 was c19k it’s now £30k while the average price has gone from c£90k to c£230k. So from c4.5x the median wage to c7.7x those that started their career and bought a home in the past 5-10 years simply don’t have less disposable income.

      Ofcourse there’s more to it than just the above. There’s more emphasis on going out to eat, drink, travel etc these days which means people are less likely to worry about overpaying their mortgage than enjoying their youth.

      • Lady London says:

        Yes @Chris Heyes I’d keep quiet about your good fortune if I were you. @TGLoyalty is right about the changes in house pricing relative to earnings.

        This is nothing particular to aviation it affects everyone. Aviation employees required by their employer to live within a specific distance or travel time from the airport will be forced to pay more out of their salary anywhere within range of LHR i particular.

    • TomG says:

      Chris costs relative to salary have increased so much that many of my friends are paying the wife’s entire salary in childcare costs alone. The hope is that having her stay in the workplace will increase their household income over the longterm but right now they are trying to pay off mortgages on 200K+ houses (and that’s way outside the city with long commutes) on one salary and keep 2 cars running, raise a child, save for retirement, save for a rainy day….It’s very hard. I’m single and wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage on a shed in Dublin/London by myself. I could buy a 2Up 2Down near my parents for around 50K but there is no work in the area, the factories have long closed and I’d be looking at a nasty commute every day. Long story short people my age are really struggling to stay afloat every month unless they have parents who are helping financially or by providing free childcare etc… I wish I knew people who were just making poor choices and throwing away their money because it would be an easier fix!

  • Dan says:

    Rob, you say LIFO is too harsh on the new joiners with £100k training debt. Those FPPs join on basic salaries of £27,000 – they can replace that income much easier than the pp24 captain paying £2,500 a month on his mortgage. The FPP, when they join another airline, or even rejoin BA from the PRP, will earn a similar salary to what they left on. If the pp24 captain joins another airline they’d start on the bottom paypoint as a First Officer, taking a much bigger hit to salary. That’s a driving principle behind the use of LIFO, which you’ve missed. Few longhaul captains are Prestwick cadets. Many joined from the RAF, with far shorter careers to earn that kind of money, or paid for their training just likr everyone else. If there’s no hope for an FPP getting another flying job, what hope does a 58 year old captain have of getting a job paying £170,000 a year? A salary they’ve based their lifestyle/mortgage etc around?

    Current redundancies are based upon the July 2021 flying plan so they won’t be making more redundant just yet. Besides, more than 20 777s are stood down at the moment anyway.

    Nick – you do realise all pilots have a sim check every 6 months? It’s not like a 25 year captain hasn’t received any training or checking in the last 25 years!


    • Bob says:

      Your professionnal life is done at 58!!

      Can’t you have some sort of solidarity with the younger ones?
      And accept to be retired. And enjoyy your life in other aspect of it.

      • Mikeact says:

        58…still working on £170k, and suggesting stil in hoc to a mortgage? What a load of tosh.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Shock horror person earning £170k doesn’t live life of person earning £30k. As your earnings grow so does your lifestyle.

          I wouldn’t assume they dont have debts and large bills to pay every month.

          I don’t feel sorry for them because they can just accept they are out of a job and they need to downsize.

          • Nick says:

            If someone can’t cut back if they land a (say) £50k job and survive then they need to take a long hard look at themselves. Plenty survive on less than half that.

            For those pointing out that pilots go back to the bottom at a new airline… well maybe that’s the problem, and where we should look to shake it up first. If they had competitive interviews and had to demonstrate why they deserve a job and higher salary – like everyone else going to a new company – then perhaps everyone would be in a better position. I can’t believe effectively locking people in to a company for life is ever a good thing – and it wouldn’t have happened without too-strong unions protecting oldies at the expense of new joiners.

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