British Airways strike: Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell joins the BA cabin crew picket line

‘When Labour gets into government, we’ll make sure there are employment laws that prevent this ever happening again’ – John McDonnell

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 12 July 2017 17:09
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John McDonnell speaks out on picket line in support of workers in BA Cabin Crew

The Shadow Chancellor has vowed to outlaw airlines bringing in planes and crews from other carriers during strikes.

John McDonnell MP was speaking outside Parliament at a British Airways cabin crew rally.

BA has borrowed nine Airbus jets, as well as pilots and cabin crew, from Qatar Airways. These “wet-leased” aircraft are being used to operate about 30 short- and medium-haul flights each day during the current stoppage by staff in BA’s Mixed Fleet at Heathrow.

The planes would otherwise be idle because of the current ban on the Qatari airline flying to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mr McDonnell said: “The most shocking thing about this dispute is their ability under existing law to bring in Qatar Airways in the way they have.

“When Labour gets into government, we’ll make sure there are employment laws that prevent this ever happening again.”

The Labour Party has backed striking British Airways cabin crew with an Early Day Motion that covers issues from pay to pregnancy,

Staff in BA’s Heathrow-based Mixed Fleet belonging to the Unite union are on strike for almost all of July. The current stoppage began on 1 July and continues until Sunday 16 July, with another strike planned for 19 July until 1 August.

The dispute began over what the union claims is “poverty pay”, with earnings below the living wage. Unite says cabin crew are sleeping in their cars at Heathrow between flights because they cannot afford the fuel to drive home.

The Early Day Motion “acknowledges the significant pay package of £6.5 million to the boss of the airline’s parent company, International Airlines Group [and] contrasts that package with reports that the starting basic pay of a member of Mixed Fleet cabin crew is roughly 533 times lower than that figure”.

Mixed Fleet was set up after the last series of BA cabin crew strikes ended in 2010. The new recruits are employed on less-favourable terms than longer-serving Heathrow staff.

Unite says the average Mixed Fleet crew member earns £16,000 annually.

British Airways says it does not recognise this figure, and that the lowest-paid full-time member of Mixed Fleet earned over £21,000 last year.

A pay deal worth 7 per cent over three years was struck in May, and is already being paid to non-union staff.

But Unite has yet to ballot members on the deal. Strikers have lost travel concessions as well as bonuses, and the July stoppages are aimed at recovering these benefits.

Last week, BA said that strikers’ bonuses would be paid to non-striking Mixed Fleet cabin crew. Each is to be paid £250 “as a thank you for your support”.

Much of the Early Day Motion is focused on Qatar Airways. It says: “Qatar Airways has been found in the past to be guilty of systemic workplace sex discrimination, which included female cabin crew being automatically sacked when becoming pregnant.”

It also says that women working for the Qatari airline have been prohibited from being dropped off at work by a man other than their husband, father or brother.

The Independent has asked Qatar Airways for a response.

A British Airways spokesperson said: “Instead of calling further completely unnecessary strikes, Unite should allow its members a vote on the pay deal we reached two months ago.

“It seems extraordinary that a trade union should ask its members to give up their pay and benefits for virtually the whole of July, trying to target the holidays of hard-working families, rather than give those members a chance to settle the central issue of the dispute.”

The airline says it is operating 99.5 per cent of flights during the strike.

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