British Airways. Photo: Pixabay British Airways. Photo: Pixabay

British Airways workers are set to go on strike after attempts to stop them in court by the company have failed, reports Eleftheria Kousta

British Airways and other airlines might find themselves in hot water pilots represented by Balpa set to pursue industrial action against the airline over unfair pay and working conditions. The ballot on 22 July recorded a 93% majority for strike action which is unprecedented. This comes right after pledges by other airport workers in Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports for mass walkouts throughout August.

The airline carrier’s attempt to block the action in court was rejected by the High Court as was their appeal at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday. Their attempt to legally stop workers taking action came while maintaining that they have pursued peaceful rapprochement. Unless BA offers a serious concession to the unions now, there are likely to be strike dates set from mid-August, and the ballot mandates subsequent industrial action until January.

Although Unite and GMB had teamed up with Balpa in November 2018 to issue the pay dispute, BA’s proposed pay increase of 11.5% over three years was accepted by Unite Union and GMB officials but representatives of the local unions and Balpa rejected it.

Unite is however organising the separate industrial action of over 4,000 employees including security guards, engineers and passenger service staff at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. The strikes, which were supposed to begin last weekend, have been paused as a new pay offer has been made which members are now balloting on. Should the latest offer be rejected, the strike is set to go ahead on 5-6 August and later dates could coincide with any Balpa strikes.

Unite representatives have characterised the salaries of ground stuff at Gatwick as ‘poverty rates’ and have claimed that Heathrow’s offer for an increase of 3.75 a day is inadequate. The Balpa strike is taking most of the spotlight, however, the struggle of the ground staff for fair pay and humane working conditions has underpinned the struggle against exploitative employers.

The dispute is taking place amid a boom in business for BA. According to the International Airlines Group (the parent company), British Airways made €2.9 billion pre-tax profit in 2018, whilst the Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport J. Holland-Kaye made £4.2 million, further highlighting disparities between employers and their employees. Yet, despite the pledges of Heathrow airport management to exercise contingency plans, unions are determined to get on with the strike unless those mentioned present serious intentions to negotiate. Strikes, if confirmed, will take place in the busiest weeks of the year throughout August, with BA transporting some 145,000 passengers daily, meaning that there is much more profit at stake for the employers if the strikes commence, compared to a settlement with the workers’ unions.

The last time the civilian air transport industry found itself in distress was in 2010 when BA cabin crew organised strike action. Although the demands of then-existing staff were eventually met by the airline, all staff hired onward were employed on mixed-term contracts that compromised the fairness of their employment. Since then, there have always been disparities between cabin crew, pilots, ground crew and new recruits. In essence, 2019 strikes are the blowback of the 2010 agreements indicating that the staff on the ‘lower ranks’ is leading the action and are more in need of support.

The struggle started with Luton Airport strikes last year that have been largely resolved successfully and have set an example for the rest of the workers employed in other transition hubs. It is not clear at all whether the action is coordinated but there seems to be a crisis throughout the whole Civil Air Transport Industry in all of the South East. All major airports are already balloting. The hardline stance the employers are taking indicates their imperatives to control organised action and implement agreements by a position of power. Considering the widespread dissatisfaction among aviation and ground crew, collective action can yield extraordinary victories for the workers. You can send messages of support and solidarity to the unions in their bid for fair and just employment.

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