10-point plan for getting BA back in the sky

Never mind Acas: Simon Calder offers both sides a free consultation on how to settle this disastrous dispute


1. Remember what the strike is about

A dispute ostensibly centred on whether or not the senior member of cabin crew on long-haul flights to and from Heathrow should push a trolley has deteriorated into the most expensive and damaging British industrial dispute in a generation.

Just in case you have forgotten, the dispute began over reform of outmoded working practices and assurances about future prospects for existing crew; as it has dragged on, issues arising from the conflict itself – disciplinary action against union members and the withdrawal of staff travel perks from strikers – have elbowed their way into the negotiations.



2. Go for an easy win: give the cheap tickets back

The depth of this venomous dispute becomes apparent when you consider the apparently intractable divide over staff travel privileges. Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways, warned strikers they would lose all staff travel benefits forever. He later offered to reinstate them, with reduced perks for strikers, if the second stoppage was called off. It wasn't, and he has now reiterated the threat: "A permanent ban will happen if the union engages in strike action."

At the same time, the joint general secretaries of Unite, Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, have declared: "Any agreement to end this dispute must and will include a framework for the full restoration of those travel concessions."

The union will prevail. Plenty of BA staff will be appalled to see Willie Walsh cave in on travel perks: they will conclude cabin crew have once again caused mayhem with impunity, with no personal loss beyond a few days' pay. But it is frankly unthinkable that half the inflight staff on a 747 are enjoying their full privileges thanks to acting as "scabin crew" (in the choice phrase of the strikers) while the other seven are penalised for following the overwhelming majority in favour of industrial action.

The likely scenario is this: the deal will include reinstatement with a few benefits lost, but within a year these, too, will be restored.

By handing back travel perks, BA is potentially storing up trouble for future disputes; it is, though, the lesser of two evils.



3. Accept there will be no reversal of disciplinary action

More than 30 union members have been disciplined in connection with the dispute, and some have been sacked. Messrs Woodley and Simpson appear reluctantly to accept British Airways' refusal to budge on dismissals. Some softening of penalties on other staff may be offered in order to allow the union to claim a minor victory.



4. Cut out the lawyers

The legal profession has profited almost as much as BA's rivals from this dismal dispute. The airline's knee-jerk response to any resounding vote by Unite members in favour of a stoppage seems to be to put its lawyers on the case, trawling through the technicalities until they have enough ammunition to seek yet another High Court injunction. It infuriates the cabin crew and doesn't impress the average citizen who recognises the validity of a pro-strike vote even if they have no sympathy with the cabin crew.



5. Don't obsess about scoring the winning goal

One of the many strange features of this dispute is that the three central players know they won't be in their jobs a year from now. The joint general secretaries of Unite are retiring to be replaced by a single figure (though it's not clear whether he or she will be required to deliver a Twitter blog), and BA's chief executive is moving to Madrid at the end of the year to run the joint BA/Iberia operation when the national airlines of the UK and Spain merge. There is an obvious analogy with footballers in their last cup final desperate to claim victory. But this isn't a matter of football – it's much more important than that.



6. Understand how awful it looks from abroad

The damage goes way beyond lost revenue for BA and lost wages for cabin crew.

Consider the impact on Scotland, which yesterday saw only six BA departures for Heathrow rather than the usual 27. It does not impress the international visitor, whether on business or holiday, to find that access to Britain's main hub is drastically curtailed.



7. Make this a battle between two sides, not three

Before reaching a "split-the-difference" settlement, Unite has to rein in the third party (and I don't mean the Socialist Workers' Party who invaded the peace talks at Acas on Saturday). The British Airlines' Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa) is the maverick branch of Unite that ultimately will endorse or reject any peace deal.

Tony Woodley told me this week that only the SWP intervention scuppered a settlement last weekend, but the cabin crew I have talked to on a couple of visits to the strike HQ near the southern runway at Heathrow are not convinced: they will have the final sign-off on any deal, but Willie Walsh regards Bassa as dysfunctional. At the very least, Unite must scrutinise the messages from Bassa to members to make sure they are accurate. On which subject...

8. Call off the propaganda dogs

Stop using misleading figures in lieu of finding a settlement. During the March strikes, Bassa made some ludicrous claims about BA planes being parked up in Cardiff and Shannon. Earlier this week, BA announced that it served 100 per cent of its short-haul destinations. That, as anyone hoping to fly between Heathrow and Manchester would know, was true only in the narrowest of senses: the Gatwick-Manchester route continued to operate.

The union's propaganda machine has been much more effective – partly because the law insists BA tells the truth. This week listeners to Radio 2 learned from a former cabin crew member that he could lose his travel privileges for talking to the media. Tosh. Indeed, no serving cabin crew have been disciplined for talking to the media, as many have done.



9. Beware M.A.D.

BA's rant about "the union's cynical attempts to destroy our airline" is not cancelled out by Unite's assertion that "BA is trying to destroy this union". The Cold War concept of "Mutually Assured Destruction" depended on neither side going nuclear. Unless this vicious war of words ends, the future for BA – and all its staff – is bleak.



10. Don't mess with the passenger

The salaries of Willie Walsh and everyone at BA are paid by you and me. The longer the dispute drags on, the longer it will take us to forgive and forget. British Airways is an excellent airline, but so too is everyone from easyJet to Emirates. The endless circles of this conflict are rather like a 747 flying perpetual circuits above London while the fuel, and the passengers' confidence, runs out.

And you know what happens next...

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week