Socialist Worker

BA workers vote to ballot on new deal

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2251

Members of Bassa, the British Airways cabin crew section of the Unite union, have voted to be balloted over a new offer from BA management.

The new deal, if agreed, will see staff win serious concessions—but there are also important omissions.

Over 500 union members gathered for a mass meeting about the deal in West London today (Thursday).

After nearly two years of the dispute, including 22 days of strike action, the mood of workers was positive. It was best summed up by one worker who said, 'The press and BA have damned us. But we have come out on top—they should say that.'

The deal offers full reinstatement of staff travel that bosses took from strikers, based on original terms of seniority.

Previous BA chief executive Willie Walsh had said this would happen 'over my dead body'. And workers cheered Walsh's departure as BA boss.

There will also be a pay increase totalling 7.5 percent over two years—4 percent this year, backdated, and 3.5 percent next year. It is unclear whether there are productivity requirements attached.

Management has also agreed that there will be no unilateral imposition of any new terms and conditions without full negotiations with the union.

But a thread of uncertainty ran through the contributions from cabin crew during and after the meeting.

Dozens of cabin crew have been sacked during the dispute.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told the meeting the sackings were 'nonsensical'. But the agreement does not include the full reinstatement of the sacked staff.

All it agrees to is binding arbitration. And those who have already been through an employment tribunal and are waiting for results, will be, in McCluskey's words, 'dealt with separately'.

The original cause of the dispute—BA's cutting of jobs and introducing a new mixed fleet with new workers on worse pay and conditions—remains untouched.

McCluskey's only reference to this was to say, 'Change is with us. There is no point rejecting change, we have to embrace it.'

Many workers were unhappy with the praise McCluskey and Bassa reps heaped on new BA chief executive Keith Williams.

McCluskey described the new executive as a 'genuine and honest man', saying to cabin crew, 'he values you'.

He said the agreement was 'honourable', although he admitted that the union hadn’t won all of its demands.

He also described a 'change within management psyche'. It is no surprise that this psychobabble left crew feeling unsettled.

McCluskey left early before crew were given the chance to ask questions. And he asked the meeting to vote on putting the agreement out to ballot before the questions.

This angered some workers. One stood up and said she voted against the deal going to ballot because there should have been questions before the vote. 'We need to have our democratic say,' she argued.

Another expressed concern over the way in which the union was trying to 'push a deal' on crew rather than allow an open discussion about pros and cons.

One asked, 'Is this charm offensive from you lot part of the deal?'

Many asked how Bassa would survive when the mixed fleet remained and new starters were all employed on worse conditions.

These are serious concerns.

After nearly two years of a media witch-hunt and abuse from BA, it is no surprise that many cabin crew feel relieved to have a deal.

But no deal should be agreed without the reinstatement of every sacked worker, and without the issue of new starters being resolved.

Solidarity, something cabin crew have fought hard for, cannot be dropped now. Allowing BA to employ workers on worse terms will weaken the position of the union.

Although the agreement includes concessions from management, cabin crew are right not to trust them.

Bassa members have shown their willingness to fight in five ballots. The latest vote, in March, was more than 83 percent for strikes.

Management are making concessions because they are desperate for things to quieten down. The strikes have hit BA hard.

But Unite has said it will not call more strike dates. Instead the union’s 10,000 members at BA will now be balloted on the deal.

McCluskey said the union would be making a 'strong recommendation' that members accept it, and that he was 'very confident' they would.

But without full reinstatement and an agreement not to undermine pay and conditions of all workers, it should be rejected.

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Article information

Thu 12 May 2011, 16:41 BST
Issue No. 2251
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