David Prosser: BA backs pragmatism

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The Independent Online

Outlook Who would have guessed that 800 British Airways staff loved their employer so much they would be prepared to work for no pay for a month in order to help its finances? Or that another 6,000 would agree to take unpaid leave?

While the story is not quite so straightforward – those working for free will still receive various allowances and may thus be better off than those taking holiday – the response that BA, which has had its problems with the unions, has had to its request for help from staff tells you something about modern industrial relations.

A bit of strong leadership helps, of course. Chief executive Willie Walsh is himself working for free in July, and while plenty of people have already pointed out that on his whacking salary he can afford to do so, he has at least been prepared to set a very public example.

The wider phenomenon is what the CBI described this week as "a remarkable solidarity of employers and employees during this recession". Inspiring, of course, but also pragmatic. For the workers, less pay is better than no pay. And their employers seem to have finally learnt the lesson of previous downturns, where many found themselves horribly short of skilled staff when the recovery finally arrived.