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British Airways has a long history of unrest between management and cabin crew but I can’t remember a time when relations have been worse than they are right now. British Airways management is claiming that it needs to make wholesale changes to the number of people it employs and to the contracts of its longer-standing employees if it’s to survive the current crisis and, understandably, a lot of cabin crew are up in arms.
The dispute between British Airways crews and management has been well documented in the press and on various blogs and, aside from the actual plight of the British Airways crews, the thing that has struck me most in all of this has been the nature of some of the comments directed at British Airways legacy cabin crews made by people seemingly unconnected to the airline – they make no sense.
I’ve written about the current conflict between BA management and BA cabin crew in the recent past and I don’t want to go over old ground but, just to set the scene before I move on, here’s the situation:
- British Airways cabin crews are divided into multiple “fleets” and sub-fleets with the crews in each fleet working under very different pay scales and conditions. Crew members who joined the airline before 1997 are, generally speaking, paid best, while those joining from 2010 onwards are paid worst.
- British Airways has been suggesting that it will need to make up to 12,000 staff redundant if the business is to survive the current crisis (link)
- British Airways had been proposing substantial pay cuts for all front line staff with some of the longer serving cabin crew seeing their earnings cut by over 50% (link).
- Recently, British Airways management has improved the deal on the table for its cabin crews but while this may represent a small improvement for ‘Mixed Fleet’ crews, it still represents a very sharp drop in pay and conditions for legacy crews.
As things stand, the longer-serving crew members (those who joined pre-2010) are on good pay (generally above the standard pay for the sector) and it’s these crews in particular that British Airways is targeting with its cuts.
HeadForPoints is one of the most widely read UK-based blogs and is a blog that gets more comments than any other travel-related blog I know…and some of the comments can be eye-opening.
A recent HFP article about the latest management offer to cabin crew has attracted almost 300 comments (at the time of writing) and I have selected a few that relate to what I’d like to discuss (screennames have been removed).
This to me is the issue, in the airline market this day and age the salaries that many of the crew are on simply are not sustainable and not real world.
This has been known for some time and the unions have been doing all they can to protect these and BA sees this as a chance to finally get rid of these legacy pay rewards that do not reflect the real world. (This is a snippet of a much longer comment)
The MF crew find it very unfair and demoralising that they earn much less than legacy crew for doing the same job. What BA is doing to legacy crew may not be very fair, but unfortunately in this type of industry paying certain people well above the current market rate is unsustainable and not in the interests of the majority of BA employees or the airline.
I really don’t see the justification for legacy staff to retain their previous conditions and wage levels, especially when BA wants to shrink employee numbers.
Then be prepared for BA to fail. Then nobody will have a job.
I don’t agree about much with BA…but those who think everyone single member of legacy staff can stay on…under their old conditions…when 1/4 of staff need to be cut…is just delusional.
Can someone tell me what the transferable skills are from flying a few days a month on a plane to the real world of going to work 5 days a week ?
And then show me the ground based job which pays the same or more ?
No, the truth is that whether the tactics are right, the BA staff seem overpaid and I don’t think trolley dollies need £1000+ a week for 1 or 2 shifts a week.
There are more comments in line with these on the post I’ve linked to and on other related posts, but the arguments don’t really differ.
This Is What I Don’t Get
All the arguments being made in the comments I’ve reproduced above can be boiled down to these three ideas:
- The legacy cabin crew salaries are unsustainable so they have to be cut permanently.
- It’s unfair that legacy crews are earning more than mixed fleet crews for doing similar jobs so, for parity’s sake, it’s right that pay is reduced for the higher earners.
- The jobs done by cabin crew aren’t worth what they’re being paid so the pay cuts are justified.
I disagree with all three of these ideas and they appear to be coming from people who either don’t know how British Airways has performed over the past decade or from people who, for reasons of their own, don’t want to see legacy cabin crew continuing to earn what they’re currently earning.
The first thing I should point out is that I’m not saying that cuts don’t have to be made and I’m not saying that redundancies or early retirements are not required (it’s pretty clear that the aviation sector is in a bad way right now). What I am saying is that the arguments being made for making permanent cuts simply don’t make sense.
The idea that paying the legacy crews the salaries that they’re currently being paid is unsustainable in the long term doesn’t tally with the profits British Airways has been making while paying those salaries.
Between 2011 and 2018 British Airways operating profits have risen year on year (link) and in 2018 and 2019 the airline’s operating profits were approximately £2 billion (link to IAG financials). If an airline can post operating profits of this magnitude under normal trading conditions, the argument that the salaries it is paying are “not sustainable” is clearly nonsense. Yes, under current conditions cuts need to be made to see the airline through the next two years (or until passenger number recover), but the airline’s financials cannot be used to justify long-term, permanent drastic pay cuts.
British Airways should be asking employees to take temporary cuts until the aviation sector recovers and agreeing to raise pay to current levels once profits recover…as they inevitably will.
Parity In Pay
There are a number of things to address here and I need to be careful to address them in the correct order so that my point isn’t lost in a sea of misunderstanding.
- Mixed Fleet crews are poorly paid and they clearly deserve better pay and conditions.
- Members of Mixed Fleet knew what pay and conditions they were signing up to when they joined the airline, while the pay and conditions now being proposed for the legacy crews are not in line with what they signed up for when they first joined. If mixed fleet crew are unhappy (I’d understand it if they were) it should be with management and not with legacy crew.
- I can’t think of any other situation where I’ve seen people suggesting that the best way to ensure employees get better and fairer pay is by cutting the pay of the better earners. What happened to the idea of paying the lowest paid employees a decent wage? Under normal trading conditions, BA can clearly afford it.
The idea that legacy crews should take a pay cut so that their pay packets are more in line with the pay packets of other crew members doing a similar job is ridiculous. All across the world, there’s a notable and unacceptable gender pay gap where men are paid more to do the same job as women in the same position, but when was the last time you heard anyone suggesting that the way to rectify this inequality is for men to take a pay cut?
Rather than making the lives of some crew members worse, shouldn’t the aim be to make the lives of more crew members better?
Cabin Crew Aren’t Worth What They’re Paid
So what and why do you care?
I have no idea if some of the legacy cabin crew are overpaid or not, but if they are I don’t see how it’s of anyone’s business. If your job isn’t within BA management I don’t see how it’s any of your concern if BA staff are paid more than the staff at other airlines or in different occupations. The pay that cabin crew are on is clearly no obstacle to the airline making massive profits (the financials bear this out) so it’s not as if the airline is on its knees and about to go bankrupt. And cabin crew pay has very little bearing on the cost of airfares, so why should anyone outside of BA care how well some crew members are paid? Is it jealousy? If it’s not jealousy I’d love to know what it is because I can’t figure it out.
Do the same people who are happy to suggest that cabin crew are overpaid also go around wondering if the people working in other corporations whose services they use are overpaid too? Do they wonder if the staff at the hotels they stay at are paid more than they think they should be? Do they wonder if the staff at the stores, shops, and restaurants they frequent are paid more than they should be? More to the point, who are they to decide?
Personally, I genuinely don’t care how well some cabin crew are being paid because it doesn’t affect me one little bit. I’m also not the sort of person who begrudges others if they happen to have found themselves in a job that pays very well compared to other similar jobs elsewhere – good for them!
The aviation sector is clearly going through some very tough times right now and most airlines are having to take measures to cut costs to give themselves the best chance to emerge from this crisis as strong as possible…and that’s understandable.
If British Airways was suggesting temporary measures to see it through the current crisis and if people were suggesting temporary pay cuts until passenger numbers recover it would be hard to argue against them…but that’s not what’s being said.
The idea that BA cannot sustain pay packets at their current levels under normal market conditions isn’t supported by the financials, so anyone arguing for permanent job losses and permanent pay cuts “to save the airline” is either blind to the facts or working with an ulterior motive.
Moreover, anyone unrelated to British Airways and claiming that crew shouldn’t be paid what they’re being paid should probably take a long hard look at themselves and wonder why they care. If BA pay packets don’t affect you or your loved ones shouldn’t you have something better to be focusing your energies on?
Featured image courtesy of British Airways