BA chief thanks union boss for peacemaking role

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The Independent Online

Rod Eddington, the chief executive of British Airways, has taken the unusual step of writing to Kevin Curran, the general secretary of the GMB trade union, to thank him for his work in helping to settle the recent strike action by airline employees.

Check-in staff working for BA at Heathrow airport walked out in protest at the imposition of a new swipe-card system for clocking-in. The dispute, which flared up in July, in the middle of the holiday season, ended up costing BA some £40m in lost revenue - as well as untold harm to its reputation.

Though the strike was unofficial, BA suspected that turf wars were an issue among the three unions representing BA ground staff - the GMB, the Transport and General Workers' Union and Amicus.

Mr Curran, who was elected only in July and was seen by many as a left-wing firebrand, stepped in and helped to persuade the GMB staff to accept a settlement, which allowed the introduction of swipe cards in exchange for a pay increase.

Mr Eddington then wrote to Mr Curran to thank him. "We were worried that he might be part of the problem, but it turned out that he ended up being part of the solution," said the BA chief executive.

The unusual reaction by Mr Eddington did not come as a shock to Mr Curran, who has been active in the trade union movement for more than 25 years.

"No, I was not surprised at all [about getting the letter]," he said. "It was good of him to acknowledge the GMB's role in that dispute. It was because we identified the cause of it. It wasn't a swipe-card issue at all. It was about people feeling neglected and ignored and unappreciated. We identified that.

"To be fair to Mr Eddington, he understood more than other people that if you want a successful company, you have to appreciate the people. It is about how you manage people. It is an example where a trade union works positively with an employer to resolve conflicts."

Engineers at British Airways are currently being balloted over the introduction of the swipe-card system and are expected to accept it.