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EXCLUSIVE: British Airways could close Gatwick short-haul after BALPA pulls pilot ballot

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The British Airways plan to relaunch its short-haul operation at London Gatwick on a low cost model appeared to be on the verge of collapse last night.

BALPA, the British Airways pilot union, terminated a ballot of members after claiming that British Airways had gone back on assurances it had made.

The airline has previously said that it would not go ahead with the new carrier if it could not reach agreement with BALPA and could instead pull out of Gatwick short-haul flying entirely.

BA may close Gatwick after BALPA pulls pilot ballot

As we covered here, the cost of pilots for the new Gatwick operation represented one of the few areas where British Airways felt it could reduce costs.

BALPA would never have allowed the airline to hire new pilots on lower pay. The two sides had been working on a deal which would allow Heathrow Airbus pilots – some currently flying, some in the ‘holding pool’ – to be seconded to the new Gatwick airline. Whilst pay would have been reduced, in line with Gatwick’s more seasonal schedule, pilots would have retained their place on the seniority list and would have a guaranteed path to return to Heathrow in the future.

According to a letter circulated by BALPA last night, which we have seen:

“….. we have been trying to insert a clause in the contract of employment which would have protected the contractual rights of LGW-based pilots by placing an obligation on BA to ensure that Newco complies with any collective agreements or procedures agreed between BALPA and BA.”

In plain English, BALPA wanted Gatwick pilots to automatically receive any pay increase or other benefits negotiated by Heathrow crew.

BA may close Gatwick after BALPA pulls pilot ballot

BALPA claimed that British Airways had agreed to such an obligation but, when it came to making it legally binding, refused.

BALPA continued:

“we have received an email from BA making it clear that the company is not prepared to include the protection clause we require.”

and concludes:

“we can no longer recommend the proposed LGW shorthaul agreement. As such we have terminated the consultative ballot with immediate effect.”

It isn’t clear what happens next. British Airways won’t risk a pilot strike by recruiting a new pilot fleet on lower salaries for Gatwick. BALPA may be willing to see BA lose its Gatwick presence rather than see a split in the pilot fleet – after all, legacy cabin crew saw their pay reduced to nearer the level of newly hired Mixed Fleet in the restructuring last year.

Who blinks now? Will BA put the Gatwick slots on the market? Will BA agree to give Gatwick pilots the automatic right to new benefits given to Heathrow pilots? Will the LCC idea now be dropped and Gatwick short haul put back in its original state? Will the slots be given to Vueling – although that could also lead to a strike? We will see.


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Comments (84)

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

  • Mike says:

    I can’t help feeling that BA pilots are appearing overly entitled – just because my friends working at Heathrow are getting a pay rise I want one too

    • Paul says:

      Overly entitled!!! Perfect description of BA flight, certainly one that was true in the past.

      BA has the upper hand here and BALPA are delusional; the world is awash with pilots and not enough planes to fly. A flight crew strike would take the concept of a Turkey voting for Christmas to a whole new level.

      I don’t use LGW so not really concerned. I’d rather BA opened a second base in the north / midlands and better served Scotland with more than just a flight to London.

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      Not sure – they’re all employed at Heathrow but some are seconded to Gatwick. Seems fair they’re kept in increase cycles.

      If you want to treat them totally differently drop the secondments and create new posts. No, that wont go down well but trying to essentially do it anyway with a secondment in name only is not going to fly (excuse pun)

    • Rob says:

      These are secondments though.

      Look at it like this. You work in Sheffield. Your boss asks you to take a secondment to the Bristol office for two years, whilst still on your Sheffield contract. During that time would you expect to receive any pay rises given to the Sheffield based staff, or wouldn’t you mind if – in 2 years – you moved back to Sheffield and were now paid less than your ex-colleagues because they got two years of rises and you didn’t?

      • Tony says:

        Is that how a secondment works though? You seconded to a different job on the terms and conditions of that position. It’s reasonable to say during that secondment period you don’t get Sheffield’s rises but when you return to your substantive post you are put on the salary that your colleagues are on.

        • Rob says:

          That option is not on the table though. It may be acceptable if it was.

        • ChrisC says:

          No a secondment is a temporary change of job.

          If you applied for the job in Bristol and took it then yes you would be on the Bristol salary etc. But under a secondment you’re asked by your employer to do the Bristol job so you remain on Sheffield terms because that’s what your contract says you’re on.

          I used to work for a UK regulator. There were 6 of us in the team I worked in. I was the only member on the organisations T&Cs. The rest – including my manager – were on those from the organisations they were seconded in from. That included not only their pay but annual leave and other terms. Their employing organisation continued to pay them and they invoiced us to reclaim those salary costs. When it came to pay rises we got those of our respective legal employers.

          It led to the strange situation where I had more annual leave than my boss and other colleagues for example.

          When the organisation was restructured and decided it didn’t need our team any more it just sent (simplifying) my colleagues back to their original employers without having to pay redundancy or find them other jobs in the organisation whereas for me as an employee they had to.

      • Paul Pogba says:

        Right, but how would I feel if while working in Bristol my west county colleagues were getting a pay rise while the Sheffield lot were on a pay freeze? Perhaps its because I’m greedy but I want the pay rise in both situations.

        • Rob says:

          But you know when you take the secondment that Bristol has agreed a 2 year pay freeze, so you want protecting as you are on a Manchester contract and will be heading back there.

      • Lady London says:

        Secondment means you keep your original terms and your base remains where it was.

        Otherwise it would be a transfer and TUPE would apply. If TUPE wouldn’t apply BA would be forcing pilots to transfer to worse terms and would say take it or leave it.

  • Lee says:

    Not a real surprise by Balpa and BA pilots. Lets not forget that BA pilots always look after themselves and conveniently forget their fellow colleagues at BA when it comes to solidarity with other BA unions. Crocodile tears…..!

  • Willberfarce Walsh says:

    Will BA EVER be led by a credible CEO again??

  • Dev says:

    I doubt there is any sympathy for BA pilots after they volunteered as temporary crew and undermined cabin crew in their quest to prevent Mixed a fleet.

    • James says:

      Spot on Dev.
      Also the article states that the Legacy Cabin Crew pay and reward is virtually the same as Mixed Fleet, this is incorrect, it has been reduced by a permanent 15% pay cut to basic pay, and some working practices are worse for crew, but overall the pay is still more than the mixed fleet contracts. Legacy cabin crew have taken a hit certainly, but still have better pay and have secured some reasonable working conditions.

  • AJA says:

    Oh dear. Sounds a bit short-sighted to me. I don’t think all BA pilots are flying yet, aren’t some still effectively on furlough? BALPA must be expecting flying to return to normal and for all BA pilots to get back in the cockpit. I can’t help feeling sorry for the cabin crew who would have had jobs as a result of this.

    • Rob says:

      They can get jobs with easyJet or Wizz when the slots are sold, and probably earn more.

      • Dev says:

        If I were easyJet or Wizz, I would refuse to buy the slots and force BA down the use it or lose it road! BAs bluff will be called… they will abandon Gatwick to protect Heathrow and both these airlines can pick up slots without paying a penny to BA!

        • Super Secret Stuff says:

          Probably why BALPA are in such a strong position, all the cards are in there favour.

          No airline would be able to finance so many slots at the current time without a goverment backing, so use it or loose it would be what happens. Although I’m sure BA will try and Lobby BoJo

          • ChrisC says:

            If the government did a deal on slots with BA then it would have to apply to every other airline else it would soon be stricken down by the courts on competition grounds.

      • ChrisW says:

        Wizz UK based cabin crew get paid more than BA crew?? How low can you go?

        • Crew says:

          BA cc basic salary is higher than Wizzair cc total monthly salary and BA has way better benefits

        • Nick says:

          They don’t. Base salaries at easy and wizz are higher because they don’t have night stops. At BA, both pilots and cabin crew get a flying allowance that pays hourly from report to clear, including while asleep in a hotel. This bumps them up to a much higher overall rate than the locos, but also allows lazy unions and journalists to shout that they’re paid less (when they’re really not).

          • Dev says:

            But should subsistence allowance e.g. food on night stops be covered from pay?

            That is surely the responsibility of the employer to provide decent accomafation, food and essentials like laundry, etc.

            (Unless I got this wrong and night allowances are a separate benefit…)

          • Nick says:

            It’s both. Part of the flying pay is for subsistence but part is designed to top up base pay. The split tax treatment of these payments makes this abundantly clear (if it weren’t already) – the latter is by far the larger of the two.

          • Super Secret Stuff says:

            You’re forgetting BAs ability to dictate how many layovers they give out on the short-haul network. Effectively they can drive down wages when ever they feel like it

      • SA says:

        They won’t, easyJet can’t hire new pilots until everyone who was made part time last year is offered their original contract

    • Nofanof BA says:

      Lets not forget the Engineers either!

  • JohnT says:

    Had only noticed LGW flights available from end March and started to get excited! From south coast LHR is a pain for short hall and makes Easyjet more attractive!

  • Richie says:

    Do Balpa have a forecast of when there will be no pilots in the none flying holding pool? If it isn’t anytime soon, they really need to carry on talking.

    • Rob says:

      Not necessary. These pilots are being well paid not to fly. If BA sells its slots to easyJet, easyJet will be out hiring Airbus pilots and potentially offering more money than BA.

      BALPA knows that if it allows worse terms at Gatwick it is game over for the Heathrow pilots. Not today, not tomorrow, but some day soon.

      • Tim says:

        @Rob, there are 3 pools of BA pilots, and not all are paid.

        1 = CRS. 330ish pilots still employed and on 33/66% pay
        2 = PRP. 249 pilots made redundant in August last year
        3 = 50ish pilots who had their start dates removed in 2020

      • Lady London says:

        I’ve always thought the Gatwick idea was about keeping Easyjet and a few others off the slots at Gatwick. Like, I don’t really want to eat this cake but I’m not giving it to you either even though it would benefit you more than me.

        • ChrisC says:

          Easy is far bigger than BA at Gatters.

          It was becauss Easy wanted to have all it’s flights operate from a single terminal that led to BA and VS having to swap to make it work for Easy..

          At Gatters it’s very much Easy that calls the shots.

          BA’s main competition was Norwegian on long haul not short haul Easy.

  • Southsun says:

    It’s all manoeuvring….IAG will buy EasyJet. Problem well and truly solved

    • Lady London says:

      Hopefully not if the Competition and Markets Authority ( or whatever the Monopolies Commission is called now) gets involved.

      I pray Easyjet’s share price will never fall enough to make this possible. Much more useful to the market would be if Easyjet bought IAG and broke it up.

      Well I can dream, can’t I? 🙂

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