Grounded planes in Bournemouth at the beginning of lockdown
Grounded planes in Bournemouth at the beginning of lockdown

British Airways’ behaviour ‘puts that of a Victorian mill owner to shame’, says union

Unite accuses airline of forcing thousands of workers onto zero-hours contracts

Helen Coffey
Thursday 20 August 2020 10:27
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British Airways has been accused of “appalling behaviour that puts a Victorian mill owner to shame” in its treatment of staff.

Unite the Union claimed the airline was trying to force thousands of workers onto insecure zero hours-type contracts in its latest round of proposals, and attempting to make some employees agree to five weeks’ unpaid leave per year.

The changes in contract could see some staff take a 43 per cent pay cut, claims Unite.

It also accused BA of misleading workers who agreed to take voluntary redundancy, claiming that, although cabin crew and other staff were told they would receive an enhanced payment above statutory redundancy pay, the carrier was refusing to follow the standard formula for calculation.

This will leave workers “potentially thousands of pounds worse off,” says Unite, adding it is encouraging those affected to withdraw from the voluntary redundancy scheme and lodge a case for unfair dismissal if they are not given the chance to remain at the company.

The main union at the airline has threatened strike action as a result of the recent issues, saying “legal and industrial action is inevitable.”

As a result of the worldwide grounding of flights caused by the pandemic, British Airways has cut more than 6,000 staff so far, 4,500 of which are cabin crew based at Heathrow and Gatwick, via voluntary redundancy.

“BA’s appalling behaviour puts that of a Victorian mill owner to shame,” said Unite’s assistant general secretary Howard Beckett.

”Make no mistake however, this fight is far from over. In fact it’s only just beginning.

“Despite BA’s deliberate efforts to mislead and divide, there can be no peace while this wealthy business is determined to make the lowest paid pay the highest price in an opportunistic re-structuring while the better-off get to keep their pay and conditions.

“Overnight, Willie Walsh and his managers are turning British Airways into a mass user of what are effectively wholly flexible contracts which will be completely open to abuse. This [is] an employment scandal, and a very dark day for this country, where BA still pretends to lays claim to national carrier status.”

He added that Unite would fight BA’s “thuggery” and “grotesque abuse of decent working people”.

BA has said that it does not offer zero hours contracts and that it is exploring every possible opportunity to reduce costs and save jobs – including selling artwork, re-mortgaging aircraft and mothballing its £200m base at Heathrow.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “For more than 100 years British Airways has been flying millions of people around the world. Today that world remains largely closed.

“Sadly, the global pandemic has resulted in job losses across every industry. This is the biggest challenge we have ever faced. Many airlines have already made thousands of staff redundant.

“We are not immune to this crisis. We have to adapt to survive, so we will continue with the proper, lawful consultative process and we will keep inviting union representatives to discuss our proposals to the serious challenges we face. It is not too late to find solutions – as we have done with [pilots union] Balpa – and to protect jobs.”

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