David Prosser: Time for Walsh to drop the hardman act at BA

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The Independent Online

Outlook Does British Airways' chief executive, Willie Walsh, really want to resolve the airline's industrial dispute with cabin crew? No one is saying he should just give in to the demands being made by Unite on behalf of its members, but winding them up further, by firing a senior Unite organiser at the airline just 24 hours before the result of the latest ballot on whether to accept revised terms and conditions is announced, surely makes no sense at all.

Right from the beginning of this dispute, Mr Walsh's uncompromising and downright aggressive approach to negotiations has fanned the flames. Unite claims that at least 50 of its members have been disciplined for political reasons, while Mr Walsh was forced to take down message boards at BA's HQ on which staff supportive of management were encouraged to record their thoughts.

The industrial action has thus become personal. British Airways' chief executive may revel in the image he portrays as a tough man who will take on entrenched interests, but the danger is that those interests will just dig in further in the face of such hostility. Assuming today's ballot shows that cabin crew have taken their union's advice to reject BA's latest offer, further strike action that is even more extensive than the last stoppages now looks inevitable.

It is the wrong strategy. Let's assume, for a moment, that BA has been entirely in the right in taking the action against individuals that it has pursued. Even then, it would have been more sensible to start talking about disciplinary action once the dispute is resolved. Passengers and other BA customers will be the victims of Mr Walsh's hardman act.