Simon Calder: BA - 'stalinist' bosses and safety concerns

Things, you might fondly have imagined until this week, can only get better. After the pantomime of the past fortnight, with British Airways securing an injunction against the latest cabin-crew strike on the most spurious of technicalities, the Socialist Workers' Party's uninvited intervention in negotiations and the running commentary on the talks via Twitter by the joint leader of Britain's biggest union, you might have imagined that the stoppage would constitute some sort of final act, ending in a settlement that allowed BA to rebuild.

A study at the evidence provided by the cabin-crew union, suggests otherwise. A careful reading of Unite's publicity suggests that British Airways and its excellent staff will emerge much diminished, both financially and reputationally, and with abysmal working relationships.

* When I worked for BA as a cleaner at Gatwick, I recognised my position at the very foot of the aviation food chain. Next up, according to the scurrillous gossip around the airport, were stewardesses from a certain airline (not BA). Above them in the pecking order came the loaders.

The men and women who lift the bags on and off the planes came unwittingly to the fore last week when protesting cabin crew on an open-top bus chanted, to the tune of the Andean folk tune El Condor Pasa: "I'd rather date a loader than a scab". Except that "date" wasn't the word they used. Their colleagues on the ramp may not share their amusement at what can most generously be regarded as a back-handed compliment.

The airline's engineers, too, were unimpressed when the union demanded assurances about cabin-crew rosters on new aircraft, to avoid existing staff being obliged to work aboard "an ageing fleet of old, broken, ill-maintained aircraft".

BA flies an older fleet than most carriers. As the graph shows, its low-cost rivals operate much newer planes and even Aeroflot has a fleet less than half the age of BA. Older aircraft are in no sense unsafe, since they are impeccably maintained by BA's engineers. But Professor Martin Upchurch of Middlesex University Business School believes "an embedded culture of bullying and authoritarianism" by the airline's top management could jeopardise safety.

In a report commissioned by Unite and sent to BA's investors, the Professor of International Employment Relations warns:

"The reporting of 'errors' may diminish if staff feel vulnerable and insecure."

Many prospective passengers have already walked away from BA into the arms of its rivals because they fear flights from Heathrow could be threatened for months. Those still undeterred may be alarmed by Professor Upchurch's implication that newly recruited cabin crew could increase risk:

"Employing newer, younger staff on lower terms and conditions may not only affect employee commitment (and customer satisfaction) but also have implications for safety when evaluated through 'critical incidents' or 'human error' reporting."

A spokesman for BA said:

"Safety of our customers and crew are our highest priority and we make no compromises. All of our cabin crew are trained to the highest standards and meet all regulatory requirements."

Professor Upchurch also describes the use of disciplinary action against cabin crew as "being reminiscent of the worse [sic] aspects of methods used by Stalinist secret police".

Have cabin crew really been subject to torture, deportation to labour camps or summary execution? British Airways denies it. And neither does the airline plan to change its name to Stalinair.

The strike solution: a rare medium

The outlandish dispute involving BA and its cabin crew requires a supernatural solution. I recommend British Airways and the cabin-crew join hands to make contact with the Icelandic medium who, on this page last week, correctly predicted the Eyjafjallajkull volcano would cease from erupting and grounding flights on Sunday.

It did. Gudjon Arngrímsson of Icelandair spent the day at a friend's house about 50km from the volcano: "I had a great view of Eyjafjallajkull and saw the smoke get smaller and smaller. Just before midnight you could almost hear the final 'puff'. All that was left was a tiny white steamball."

Just what the dispute needs.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific