British Airways: Strike Breakers!
Following an abortive attempt last October in the high court to stop management reducing the number of cabin crew from15 to 14, the trade union Unite has returned to the high court. The union has also called another strike, and is currently balloting it’s members. This strike could start on March 1st.
What has complicated this ongoing conflict is a set of 15 cabin crew being suspended for naming and shaming on Facebook 40 pilots who have volunteered to be trained as cabin crew if a strike happens. The relatively well paid pilots may well belong to another union; although some may belong to no union. Historically, strike breakers were the relatively poorly paid; some imported from Ireland. A further complexity is that non-flying staff, including baggage handlers and check-in staff, are also being retrained as cabin crew. The pilots are to get 3 days retraining: the other staff 3 weeks.
This flurry of activity by both management and union produces a conflict on many levels. There is the legal level in the high court, attempting to reverse last October’s decision in favour of management. There is the level of inter-union conflict over strike breakers who are already members of a union. There is the suspension of 15 staff, who risk discipline or dismissal. There the prospect of major job loss if the number of cabin crew on long haul flights are reduced. There is a 2 year pay freeze. Finally, new recruits to staff may be paid at a much lower rate than existing staff.
This does present management as acting aggressively. But the union, by returning to court, can also be seen in the same light. This is not surprising as there is much at stake here. Protecting jobs conflicts with the need to reduce costs. Underlying these current conflicts are longer term concerns. Is British Airways down-sizing; is it attempting to join another competitor? This scenario paints a more radical loss of jobs. This produce a feeling currently of job insecurity.
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