Socialist Worker

BA workers should reject shoddy deal

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2252

Cabin crew on the picket line at Heathrow. Workers took part in 22 days of solid strikes last year  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Cabin crew on the picket line at Heathrow. Workers took part in 22 days of solid strikes last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)


A terrible deal is on the table at British Airways (BA)—and the Unite union is backing it.

Cabin crew have shown fantastic resilience in their long-running dispute with BA. They have voted time and time again for strikes and struck for 22 days, having a big impact and winning widespread support.

The current offer leaves BA’s main objectives in place while making it harder for workers to strike. Crew deserve much better.

Much of the offer is the same as a deal drawn up last October—which was so bad that reps in Bassa, the cabin crew section of Unite, refused to recommend it.

But the latest offer includes a new, shocking element—an acceptance that BA can use scabs during strikes.

Such an agreement, by Britain’s biggest union, would be an appalling concession to the bosses and set a dangerous precedent. Cabin crew must organise to build a huge no vote in their ballot and reject the offer.

Compromise

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey says that the latest deal proves that new BA boss Keith Williams is willing to compromise. This is false.

Unite says the deal gives crew their staff travel concessions back, which previous boss Willie Walsh vindictively took away after workers struck.

But this isn’t guaranteed. As with October’s offer, there is no mention of staff travel in the actual agreement.

It is only mentioned in a covering letter from Williams to McCluskey. This says that BA may restore the concessions if a number of conditions are met.

First is “acceptance and implementation of the agreement”.

Second is the conclusion of “streamlining” of the facilities agreement between BA and Unite.

This involves the unions being “open and understanding to the needs of the company and its managers”—exactly the same phrase that appeared in October’s offer.

In October, BA demanded that Bassa’s communications must be “more balanced and measured”. Now they must be “more accurate and balanced”.

Staff travel can only be restored if BA decides that all these conditions have been met—and even then it is subject to the agreement of the BA Main Board.

The letter stresses that the concessions are “non-contractual”—so BA can remove them in the future.

The deal promises to protect crew’s terms and conditions. October’s offer did the same. But, as with everything else, it’s not a full guarantee. Collective agreements can be changed “through the agreed processes”.

And BA’s mixed fleet lays the basis for a weaker, non-unionised workforce.

The deal says there will be a fair distribution of flights between fleets—but then says this will be “subject to commercial need”.

BA’s aim is to expand mixed fleet at the expense of others and Unite should oppose it outright.

Clauses

Even sections of the offer that seem to grant a concession have get-out clauses. So it promises a “permanent variable earnings guarantee” to protect crew’s pay.

But it won’t apply to all crew—only to “eligible” workers who work for Eurofleet or World Wide Fleet based at Heathrow.

And it is only BA’s “intention” to bring in the guarantee—which “does not preclude negotiated changes, which may occur from time to time”.

BA has split off Gatwick altogether, further dividing the workforce. In terms of promotion, “future opportunities will be limited” for all crew.

Unite won’t “directly or indirectly commence, continue to pursue, fund or otherwise support or assist any litigation” against BA. This includes cases over the dispute and Employment Tribunals.

Workers taking legal action will have to pay the costs themselves. They will have to take their cases to the Acas conciliation service and the results will be binding.

The new offer makes more references to BA having talks with Unite. It hasn’t been able to disregard the union altogether.

But agreeing to more talks isn’t the same as agreeing to make any real changes.

The deal protects BA’s interests. As the Daily Telegraph business section put it, “BA management have secured the two big cost-saving measures they were looking for.

“The company will save more than £60 million a year by reducing the size of cabin crew and will save an as yet unquantified amount by exercising its right to hire new cabin crew on more competitive pay rates.”

Workers should reject this shoddy deal.


What the deal really means

  • The “mixed fleet” will remain, employing workers on lower pay and worse conditions. It will have a “separate negotiating body”
  • Job cuts imposed in November 2009 remain in place
  • There is no guarantee that any worker sacked or suspended during the dispute will be reinstated
  • There is no guarantee that sick crew who had their pay docked during strikes will get their money back
  • Unite promises to give no support to any member bringing legal action against BA including Employment Tribunals.
  • The below-inflation pay offer, for 2011/12 and 2012/13, is the same as was offered in October. The new offer says that further small rises are available—“subject to equivalent additional productivity savings being agreed with the company”. Some crew say their pay will be cut substantially under the new offer


BA could use scab labour

Allowing scab labour makes the current deal worse than previous ones.

The deal states that volunteers and others working alongside cabin crew could “be used as part of the main crew complement” when the disruption agreement is in place.

The new offer would create a “customer support programme” to manage the “voluntary” crew and “Crew from the customer support programme can be deployed as part of main crew complement.”

The offer also inserts a new clause against workers taking industrial action.

The previous offer allowed daily deductions to be made from workers’ pay for “non flying duties” including sickness, unpaid leave and trade union activities and duties.

The current offer has added “industrial action”.

Are you a British Airways worker? Let us know what you think about the latest offer to end the dispute. Email sadie@socialistworker.co.uk


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Article information

News
Tue 17 May 2011, 18:18 BST
Issue No. 2252
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