British Airways Pilots & Crews Move A Lot Closer To Industrial Action

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At the end of November 2018, in a somewhat surprising show of solidarity, the three unions who represent the majority of the British Airways workforce submitted a joint pay claim calling for an improved 3-year deal for their members with improved profit sharing.

Negotiations between the unions and the airline commenced in December but, at the end of February, the unions announced that discussions really weren’t going anywhere.

British Airways posted record profits of around €1.95bn at the beginning of the year but, according to the unions, the only offer on the table was a 1-year inflationary increase in pay.

This offer was put to the membership and, unsurprisingly, was overwhelmingly rejected by 97% of the pilots, cabin crew and support staff who took part in the ballot. Worryingly for British Airways, approximately 93% of the union members who took part in the ballot also said that they would favor a ballot on industrial action if the airline didn’t step up with a noticeably better offer.

a group of people standing in front of an airplane
Image courtesy of British Airways

Well, two months on from the last ballot nothing seems to have changed and the unions are getting restless.

According to a letter sent by one of the unions (Unite) to its members the only other offer British Airways management has put forward was essentially a re-hash of the original offer and has been rejected (on behalf British Airways workers) by all three unions negotiating with the airline.

In a nutshell, these appear to be the issues with what BA management has put forward:

  • Based on forecast inflation rates there’s a risk that BA’s latest offer could result in an effective pay cut over 3 years.
  • The proposed ‘share in success’ payment of 1% is considered to be “woefully inadequate”.
  • There has been no proposal “of substance” relating to an employee share ownership scheme.
  • BA’s offer is predicated on the unions agreeing to “unspecified productivity change” for their members.
  • BA’s offer excludes specific work areas and staff.

There still seems to be a significant gap between what the unions are demanding and what British Airways is prepared to deliver.

a large airplane with blue writing on it

What Now?

The unions say that they remain open to dialogue and discussions with British Airways management but they have also confirmed that they will each shortly begin preparations to ballot the 20,000+ workers they represent.

There has been no mention of what exactly the ballot will be asking members to decide upon but, given that the unions have already rejected BA’s latest offer on behalf of their members and that union members have shown an appetite for a ballot on industrial action, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that industrial action is next on the agenda.

The biggest headache for British Airways right now is that this isn’t an issue limited to its cabin crew – it includes its pilots too.

The airline has (mostly) successfully weathered industrial action from cabin crew in the past but if its pilots were to down tools en masse there’s not really much the airline can do.

BALPA, the pilots’ union taking part in the current negotiations, represents approximately 90% of all of BA’s pilots and, during the last ballot, the turnout of their members was staggeringly high (~89%)… this isn’t just a small disenchanted sector of BA’s workforce that’s jumping up and down in anger.

If the pilots vote for industrial action this is going to hit British Airways (and its customers) very, very hard.

a group of airplanes at an airport

Timeline From Here

Should there be any industrial action coming up it won’t happen for at least a month because these things take time.

Here’s how the timeline breaks down:

  • The unions have to give British Airways a minimum of 7 days notice if they plan to ballot their members on industrial action
  • The unions will almost certainly hold any ballot across a period of 14 days
  • British Airways has to be given a minimum of 14 days notice of any action that is to take place

That’s a total of 35 days so, even if the unions were to give BA notice of a plan to ballot members on industrial action today (which I doubt will happen), we wouldn’t see anything happen until the 3rd week of June.

Assuming a ballot for industrial action takes place and industrial action is called for I suspect the unions will aim to hold any action on days where its likely to hit BA hardest….and that probably means the action will be scheduled for the first week of the UK’s school holidays in July.

Bottom Line

I’m no fan of having my travels disrupted (and they’ll definitely be disrupted if there’s industrial action in June or July) but I have quite a bit of sympathy for the unions’ position here.

I’m not entirely convinced that pilots need to be paid any more than they are already (they don’t seem to do too badly) but a large proportion of BA cabin crews seem to be seriously underpaid and they’re the ones often left to explain management’s cost-cutting decisions to disgruntled customers – they’re the ones at the sharp end of the business.

I don’t want to see industrial action any more than anyone else but with BA making the incredible amounts of money that’s it’s making right now I can’t help but feel that the workforce should be entitled to share in the spoils a little.

The crews took very big hits when BA was in the financial doldrums so isn’t it right that they get a little something extra when all is bright and cheery at Waterside?

Come on BA, don’t ruin my travel plans and pay your crews a decent wage.


  1. Another trick in the Walsh Cruz Model (WCM) – Working Capital Management improvements and impressing shareholders with higher profits, while keeping the cabin crew underpaid.

  2. A quick way to ruin a company- convince staff that “we are all in this together” and “we can weather the storm if we all tighten our belts” during the hard times, and then tell them to piss off when things improve… its a shame since I just recently got Silver on BA and was looking forward to using them for work again in August. Ah well, perhaps not in this climate.

    • Cruz has been working on ruining BA for years, but you’re right that this is a drastic acceleration. It’s heartbreaking to see such a once glorious airline stoop this low.

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