British Airways cabin crew strike extended: balancing labour cost efficiency with service

On 5-Jul-2017 cabin crew members of the Unite union at British Airways announced a 14 day strike from 19-Jul-2017 to 1-Aug-2017, hard on the heels of a 16 day strike from 1-Jul-2017 to 16-Jul-2017. These follow 26 days of strikes in January, February and March this year. This flare-up of strike action in 2017 is BA's first serious industrial dispute since 2010 and relates to the same underlying issue – namely, BA's so-called 'mixed-fleet' cabin crew policy.

The issue went dormant for years, but it did not die. Mixed-fleet crew are unhappy about pay and sanctions against workers that took part in previous strikes. Unhappy staff do not always give the best service to customers.

But the dispute also has another dimension. Unite objects to BA's wet lease of nine Airbus narrowbodies from Qatar Airways to cover the strike, arguing that this contravenes EU regulations (although EU regulators do not seem to agree).

Unite has also claimed that it raises concerns over labour standards and safety, mimicking the anti-Gulf protectionist rhetoric of US airline unions. The dispute is a severe test of BA's resolve for cost efficiency, but also raises questions about the balance between the company's determination and service levels.

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