BA and Heathrow face strike chaos

BRITISH AIRWAYS hopes that the resumption of last-ditch talks over pay demands from the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) next week will avert major disruption of strikes by some of its pilots, bringing chaos to passenger travel and air cargo shipment schedules. No doubt the UK flagship carrier’s failure to win a High Court injunction on 23 July 2019, to thwart industrial action will make the meeting somewhat awkward initially, writes Thelma Etim. BALPA claims a ballot of BA members closed ‘with a 93 per cent vote in favour of industrial action’ on a 90 per cent turnout. The impasse is quite apparent given the official statements from both parties. Commenting on the deadlock, the IAG-owned airline argues: “Our proposed pay deal of 11.5 per cent over three years is fair, and by contrast to BALPA, has been accepted by the members of the Unite and GMB trade unions, which represent nearly 90 per cent of all British Airways colleagues. “We are disappointed that the pilots’ union, BALPA, has chosen to threaten the holidays of thousands of our customers this summer with unprecedented strike action.” The carrier continues: “We are very sorry for the disruption BALPA’s strike action will cause our customers. While no strike dates have yet been issued by BALPA, and they are required to give us 14 days’ notice of any intention to call strike action, we ask our customers to review their contact details by visiting, or by contacting their travel agent.” Strike action taken during the peak season this year would cost British Airways millions of pounds in lost revenue But Brian Strutton, general secretary of BALPA, asserts: “This strong [ballot] result demonstrates the resolve of BA pilots, and shows BA that it must table a sensible, improved offer if a strike is to be averted. “BA is making massive profits as a result of the hard work and dedication of staff, including because of sacrifices made during hard times. Thankfully, BA is no longer in a fight for survival so, like the airline’s senior managers and directors, pilots deserve a small fraction of that profit via, for instance, a profit share scheme,” he adds. An additional official statement from BALPA on 2 August 2019, reads: “BALPA and British Airways have been in talks at The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS ) since Wednesday afternoon in order to try and resolve the dispute between BA and its pilots. Those talks continued on Thursday and Friday. “Both sides have agreed to resume talks next week. In the meantime BALPA will not announce any industrial action dates at this time. BALPA is still committed to finding a negotiated solution to this dispute.” Strike action taken during the peak season this year would cost the airline group millions of pounds in lost revenue and would also damage its international reputation. Meanwhile, more than 4,000 employees, including firefighters, engineers, passenger service operatives and passenger service drivers, at Heathrow Airport are scheduled to walk out on the dates 5 August, 6 August, after Unite union confirmed its members had overwhelmingly (88 per cent) rejected a revised pay offer from the airport. The industrial action by Heathrow workers follows the rejection of an 18-month pay rise of 2.7 per cent which, according to the union, amounts to just £3.75 extra a day for the lowest paid employees involved in the dispute. Unite resumed talks talks under the auspices of ACAS on the evening of 2 August, warning Heathrow Airport “against choosing to pay millions of pounds in compensation to airlines for cancelled flights, instead of taking the sensible option of using that money to settle the dispute. “A two-day strike involving security guards, firefighters, engineers, passenger service operatives and passenger service drivers is planned to start at 00:01 on Monday 5 August, finishing at 23:59 Tuesday 6 August,” reveals an official statement on the union’s website. Airport staff were scheduled to walk out on Friday 26 July and Saturday 27 July, but the strikes were postponed while Unite union members considered and voted on a new pay offer. Last year, John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow Airport received a 103.2 per cent pay increase, from £2.1m in 2017, to £4.2m in 2018. Wayne King, regional coordinating officer for Unite, warns: “Heathrow faces a compensation bill in the region of £4.6 million from airlines if the planned strikes go ahead. “Rather than provoking the disruption that strike action will cause, we would urge Heathrow Airport to use this money for an improved pay offer that better reflects the hard work of the workers who keep the airport running safely and smoothly.” King continues: “This latest vote for strike action points to growing anger among the airport’s workers in a whole range of vital jobs which are essential to the smooth and safe running of Heathrow. Airport bosses need to heed this latest strike vote and the overwhelming rejection by our members of the revised pay offer which offers little over and above the original offer of £3.75 extra a day for many workers. “It is in Heathrow bosses’ power to settle this dispute. We would urge them to work with us to do so and avoid the disruption to passengers that strike action will inevitably bring.” 


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