British Airways dispute: "we've got to be ready to stand up again"

Submitted by Matthew on 1 April, 2010 - 2:49 Author: A BASSA cabin crew worker

There are conflicting figures about the impact of the strike. BA are claiming that most flights flew, but we reckon around two-thirds of workers were on strike.

That’s positive, but there’s still an awful lot of fear; we’re not like the dockers or the miners where you had a strong culture of trade union militancy.

Walsh used “wet leases” from other carriers such as EasyJet and Monarch to get some planes in the air, as well as running a few flights with volunteer crews. A lot of empty planes were moved around, too. That happens normally — smaller aircraft need to be moved to allow large planes to park — but BA can use those figures to claim there were more planes in the air. It’s also obviously very environmentally wasteful and damaging to move empty planes around like that.

Spirits amongst the workers are fairly high when people are together. At the strike centre in Bedfont near Heathrow, people were very upbeat and ready for anything.

But when we’re on our own things get harder. People have lost huge amounts of pay — a lot more than they should’ve done. One worker’s pay-slip said her basic pay was zero! That was obviously a mistake, but there have suddenly been lots of errors like that. People who weren’t at work because they’ve been sick for long periods of time have had pay deducted.

Management is now saying that each case will be looked at individually — so in other words our bosses are going to decide if we’re actually sick or not! One worker worked the first half of a “back to back” [two long-haul flights with brief stopovers worked over a six-day period] and not the second half, as that fell on strike days. They’ve been deducted pay for the whole thing, even the bit they did work.

Another worker was on a flight in between the strike days and was taken very ill. When she landed she received an almost-immediate call from her manager saying that any time she missed would be dealt with as industrial action!

All the “accidental” errors on pay-slips seem rather deliberate. Lower-level managers are obviously under a lot of pressure from above; they might not necessarily agree with treating us in that way but they’re following their orders.

Everyone’s having their staff travel allowance docked, and Walsh is saying that it won’t be reinstated. A lot of workers live abroad and need their allowance in order to get to work in the first place. If they can’t afford to get to work, then that’s constructive dismissal as far as we’re concerned.

People were specifically recruited from abroad because of their language skills, and now Walsh is basically telling them they can’t come to work. The union has said any eventual deal must include reinstatement, but Walsh is adamant that he won’t budge. The level of sheer intimidation and victimisation makes it very clear that he wants to break the union; there are no two ways about it.

It’s true that a lot of the placards and material around the strike was a little apologetic, rather than taking the offensive and making ambitious demands. But that’s because we genuinely care about upsetting people. Our job is about compassion so it’s understandable that we might take that emphasis. People would really rather be doing their jobs and looking after customers than be out on strike, but we’ve got no choice.

Some of us from BASSA met with seven Labour MPs recently, including John McDonnell. They’ve said they’ll take up cases of bullying. They were very receptive to us, but workers’ confidence in the Labour Party is extremely low. They’re absolutely outraged at Gordon Brown’s condemnation of the dispute. When he weighed in, over 300 workers rang our office to cancel their political levy.

Things don’t look like improving through negotiations. Talks will continue but I can’t see Walsh backing down. We have to be ready stand up again. This is a bigger fight than just us; if our bosses get away with these attacks on us, it’ll be a green light for other employers to do the same to their workers.

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