22-Mar-2010 9:12 AM

British Airways cabin crew launch weekend strike action

British Airways' cabin crew commenced (19-Mar-2010) strike action just after midnight on 20-Mar-2010, after British Airways and union, Unite, failed to reach an agreement on issues of job cuts and conditions.

  • Failed negotiations: According to Unite, BA CEO, Willie Walsh, tabled a new offer, which included a reduced pay offer, during final negotiations last week. Unite stated (20-Mar-2010) the offer was unacceptable, as the proposals were worse than those put forward by the carrier the week prior. Joint Secretary General, Tony Woodley, stated Unite's main difficulties with the proposal were:
    • BA's insistence that crew sign up to a four-year pay deal which will, at best, freeze real pay until 2014 - but most likely will see a real pay cut year-on-year by BA. Crew had offered to cut pay for one year and give the company a three-year deal, which was declined by BA;
    • The carrier's failure to commit to extending the validity of the industrial action ballot to allow for members to be balloted on any offer from BA. Unite claims this failure could have led, in the event of a rejection of BA's proposals by cabin crew, to a third strike ballot in five months;
    • BA's failure to address Unite's concerns about the impact on existing crew as the airline pushes forward with its new fleet plans, in particular how routes will be distributed between existing and new crew in the future.
  • The union stated it will remain open for talks at any stage and also called on (20-Mar-2010) BA to allow cabin crew staff to speak about the dispute. Mr Woodley now plans (21-Mar-2010) to address striking BA cabin crew on 22-Mar-2010. [more - Unite announcement of strike] [more - comment from Tony Woodley] [more - Unite's reasons for rejection] [more - suspended staff] [more - calls for staff to be allowed to speak about strike action] [more - Mr Woodley to address staff]
  • Scheduling: BA stated (20-Mar-2010) it aimed to handle as many customers as possible over the weekend. The carrier stated cabin crew are reporting as normal at London Gatwick Airport and the numbers reporting at London Heathrow Airport are above the levels required to operate its published schedule, with 97% reporting for work at Gatwick and 52% at Heathrow (Dow Jones/Mail Online, 21-Mar-2010). Contingency plans "worked well" (21-Mar-2010) on both 20-Mar-2010 and 21-Mar-2010.
    • 21-Mar-2010: All long-haul services were able to depart as planned on Saturday evening and arrived as normal at Heathrow and Gatwick on Sunday. There was no evidence of industrial action at any overseas airport directed at BA flights. The planned schedule of departures at Heathrow and Gatwick continued to work well, with BA adding additional flights to its schedule at both Heathrow and Gatwick. The carrier also continued to operate a full B777 long-haul programme from the UK to more than 30 destinations around the world and added several extra B747 flights, due to the numbers of crew reporting for work. Charter operators also worked well and were integrated with short-haul flying schedules at Heathrow and Gatwick. All flights at London City remained unaffected;
    • 22-Mar-2010: Revised schedule of departures at Heathrow and Gatwick went as planned and many aircraft started to depart full. The carrier continued to operate a full B777 long-haul programme and added several extra B747 flights, on top of the nine extra long-haul services added the day prior, due to the numbers of crew reporting for work. BA also added additional short-haul flights to its schedule at both Heathrow and Gatwick. Charter operations continued to work well with good punctuality levels. All of London City flights remained unaffected. 152 flights from Heathrow and 14 from Gatwick were cancelled for the day (Bloomberg, 21-Mar-2010).
    • The carrier now plans to train a further 5,000 staff as strike breakers for the next round of strikes next weekend (The Sunday Times, 21-Mar-2010). [more - 20-Mar-2010 statement] [more - 21-Mar-2010 statement] [more - 22-Mar-2010 statement]
    • Unite disputed claims a number of staff were breaking the strike, stating only nine of 1,100 staff showed up for work on Sunday and only a third of scheduled flights were operated, while 80% of crew were supporting the strike (AFP/Bloomberg/Reuters, 21-Mar-2010). 
  • Other union responses: International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Transport Workers Union (TWU) confirmed (19-Mar-2010) support for BA cabin crew; [more]
  • Other carriers’ responses: Titan Airways stated it was contracted to operate two aircraft, a B757 and a B767, on behalf of BA for the duration of the first strike (Breaking Travel News, 19-Mar-2010). The aircraft, based at Heathrow, will operate to Dusseldorf, Nice, Rome and Lyon. bmi stated it has added 5,000 seats to its Heathrow operations to assist customers affected by the strike (eTravel.org, 19-Mar-2010);
  • oneworld carriers: Finnair stated it will operate larger aircraft on Helsinki-London service, adding 20 seats per flight (Bloomberg, 21-Mar-2010). Iberia also plans to add larger aircraft on services from Madrid to the UK, and one additional flight. American Airlines stated it would allow passengers on Heathrow services operated either by it or BA through to 31-Mar-2010 to make one free change to their tickets;
  • Government reaction: Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, again called for the strike to be cancelled immediately, stating it is in “no-one’s interest” (BBC News, 19-Mar-2010). UK Government reportedly remained in touch with Unite over the weekend, urging for the strike to be cancelled (The Observer, 21-Mar-2010). Finance Minister, Alastair Darling, meanwhile stated the strike is “unnecessary” and “damaging to the company, to its employees, and to the travelling public and it needs to be resolved” (euronews, 21-Mar-2010).

Unite: "The hawks on BA's board have won the day. BA has tabled a worse offer than the one withdrawn last week. I am extremely disappointed for the travelling public and our members, but this union will now support our members, while remaining open for talks with the company. It is with great disappointment that I have to say the strike will go ahead. It is an absolute disgrace and an insult to our people that Mr Walsh tabled a deal that reduced the amount of pay on offer. It is mission impossible and quite frankly ridiculous to expect anyone to go to their membership with a worse offer," Tony Woodley, Joint General Secretary. Source: Unite, 19-Mar-2010.

Unite: "Let me first of all congratulate you [striking cabin crew] on yesterday’s magnificent start to the industrial action which has been forced on you. You have stood up and stood strong for your rights your dignity and your pride in the face of a bullying management and a malicious Tory media...More importantly, let me explain to you clearly – there was no negotiated agreement on offer. The take-it-or-leave-it “offer” on the table last Friday disappointed me greatly because some progress had been made and if the management team, which already had their coats on ready for a walk-out, had been prepared to continue talking a solution could have been reached. But in the event BA reverted back to imposition not negotiation," Tony Woodley, Joint General Secretary. Source: Unite, 19-Mar-2010.

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