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Anyone who has travel plans with British Airways this summer and who has been reading this blog over the past few months will have known that yesterday was the closing day for the BA pilots’ strike ballot.
BALPA, the union representing over 90% of all British Airways pilots, has been indicating its dissatisfaction with the progress of negotiations with management for some time so when a ballot for strike action was called last month the result was never really in any doubt.
I’ve said in every post I’ve written on the subject that BA’s pilots will almost certainly vote overwhelmingly for strike action so, when the ballot results were announced last night and a 90% turnout saw 93% of pilots confirm their appetite for industrial action, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
At the time of writing, no strike dates have been announced and British Airways has posted the following comment online:
We’re very disappointed that the pilot union, BALPA, has chosen to disrupt our customers’ travel plans – including the summer holidays of thousands of families and friends – with potential strike action.
We have yet to receive strike dates from BALPA, so there are no changes to our schedule at this time.
We remain open to working with BALPA to reach agreement, as we have been since December.
Our proposed pay offer of 11.5 per cent over three years is fair, and the Unite and GMB trade unions, which represent nearly 90 per cent of British Airways staff, have already recommended this offer to their members.
We’re pursuing every avenue to find a solution to protect your travel plans and we urge BALPA to return to talks as soon as possible.
We’re very sorry for the disruption this potential strike action will cause.
The airline has also applied to the High Court for an injunction in an attempt to prevent any industrial action (I’ll explain why this will be a futile exercise in a moment) and, in turn, this is what BALPA has had to say:
This strong result demonstrates the resolve of BA pilots, and shows BA that it must table a sensible improved offer if a strike is to be averted. Sadly three days of ACAS talks have not moved the company’s position one iota. Settlement of this dispute is in BA’s hands.
“We do not wish to inconvenience our customers which is why we have tried to resolve this matter through negotiation starting last November – it is BA who has regrettably chosen to drag this out into the summer months.”
BALPA believes the cost to BA to settle dispute in full is significantly less than the cost would be of even a single day’s strike action.
BA’s attempt to injunct this industrial action in the High Court tomorrow [Tuesday 23rd July] means that any further negotiations are on hold while we prepare to defend our right to take this action
BA is making massive profits as a result of the hard work and dedication of staff, including because of sacrifices made during hard times. Thankfully BA is no longer in a fight for survival so, like the airline’s senior managers and directors, pilots deserve a small fraction of that profit via, for instance, a profit share scheme.
We currently do not have dates for any potential strike action and will issue an update on this in due course. We remain hopeful that this dispute can be resolved before strike action, but we remain committed to action if necessary.
This does not look good for those of us who have travel booked with British Airways in the coming months.
Futile High Court Plea
British Airways may have applied to the High Court for an injunction to prevent any industrial action taking place but, as history has shown [HT: Head For Points], this will almost certainly have no bearing on whether industrial action takes place or not – at best it will just delay it.
Even if the High Court decides that there was a breach of protocol during the ballot process, or that some other issue invalidates the result of the ballot, all that will happen is that BALPA will re-run the ballot (while ensuring that that the High Court’s issues are addressed) and the outcome will be just the same as it was yesterday…or possibly even more vehement.
From BA’s point of view, this may delay any industrial action past the busiest summer months (that will depend on how long any new BALPA ballot process takes) but it won’t prevent industrial action taking place at some point in the future.
Right now it’s hard to offer any concrete advice to readers who have travel booked with British Airways in the coming months as things are still very much up in the air – it’s hard to prepare effectively for a disruption whose timing is as yet unknown and may not even take place.
However, the fact remains that if BA pilots go on strike the British Airways fleet will be grounded and will not be going anywhere – passengers will either have to hope that BA can accommodate them on other airlines (this is unlikely considering the passenger numbers we’re dealing with) or they can start making (expensive) alternative arrangements now just in case any future disruption affects their travel plans.
As someone with a British Airways flight booked for next month I’m currently waiting to see how things play out – booking a backup flight on another carrier which may not be required is an expense I’m not prepared to risk at this stage – but I’ll be watching proceedings very carefully and I will not be relying on BA to get me home if my flight ends up being affected.
Note: If you’re traveling with BA in the next two weeks you should be in the clear – BALPA has to give the airline a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice of any action its members intend to take.