Struggling BA asks its 40,000 employees to work without pay

Airline's future depends on help from everyone, says chief executive Willie Walsh

British Airways is giving staff the option of working without pay for up to a month in order to "play their part" in what chief executive Willie Walsh describes as a "fight for survival".

The beleaguered company says employees can opt for between one and four weeks' unpaid work, with the salary deduction spread across between three and six months' pay packets. Operational staff will continue to receive shift allowances, so staff will not necessarily be receiving no money at all for the period, BA said. There is also the option of up to a month's unpaid leave.

More than 1,000 of BA's 40,000 employees have already signed up to an offer of a month's unpaid leave or a switch to a part-time contract, which was launched after last month's announcement of record £401m losses. The latest offer is more flexible to appeal to more workers, says BA.

Mr Walsh – who, along with finance director Keith Williams, is forgoing his pay for July – called on all staff yesterday to get involved in the cost-cutting measures. "Our survival depends on everyone contributing to changes that permanently remove cost from every part of the business, and I would urge you to play your part," he wrote in the staff newspaper. "These are the toughest trading conditions we have ever seen and there simply are no green shoots in our industry... This is not a temporary problem. This is our greatest ever challenge."

The offer of unpaid work, and the strident rhetoric, comes against a background of long-running talks with three different trade unions – Unite, the GMB and Balpa. BA has set a deadline of the end of June to agree its cost-cutting plans, which include reducing cabin crew staff by 2,000 but also affect ground staff, engineers and pilots.

The expectation is that cuts can be achieved through voluntary redundancies, part-time contracts and natural churn, although Mr Walsh has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies.

Some 2,500 jobs have already gone, since August, 480 of them managers taking voluntary redundancy. The only way to find the kind of money the airline needs is to address staffing issues, such as crewing ratios. BA typically flies between two and three more cabin crew on long-haul flights than its rival Virgin Atlantic, and one or two more on short-haul flights compared with easyJet or Ryanair.

There is no reason to do so apart from history, said Andrew Fitchie, an analyst at Collins Stewart. "The crewing ratios out of synch with other airlines purely because BA used to be state-owned and there are entrenched unions," Mr Fitchie said. "There is no reason for it, certainly no safety reason, just entrenched terms and conditions the trade unions created over years that left BA unable to compete."

There is no question that BA needs to do something. From record profits of £922m in 2007/8, BA dropped to a £401m loss in the year to March, battered by high oil prices, tumbling sterling and collapsing passengers numbers, particularly in business and first-class. Premium seat sales were down by 15 per cent in March and April, non-premium by less than 1 per cent. It has cancelled its dividend and is in talks with its 250 major suppliers with a view to bringing down their combined £4.5bn annual bill.

Although the potential savings from the latest staffing scheme cannot compare with those from major headcount reductions, every little helps. "When you are on course to lose £400m-£600m, you will do anything," Mr Fitchie said. "BA is in desperate need of an economic recovery, meanwhile the cash pile is slowly but surely burning away."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot