LONDON – The head of the trade union Unite has warned British Airways (BA). The Union plans to move towards industrial action against the airline “with immediate effect.”

Unite and BA have been at loggerheads for several weeks. In April, BA owner IAG warned it could slash up to 12,000 jobs due to the impact of coronavirus.

British Airways Airbus A321Neo – Credits: Filippo Martini-RomeAviationSpotters

British Airways’ Current Situation

BA said it was disappointed by Unite’s criticism. Many airlines are struggling to survive as the coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted global travel.

The plunge in travel will drive airline losses of more than US$84bn (£66bn) this year. This is according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The British airline said last month that 2020 revenues would drop to $419bn, down 50% from 2019.

British Airways Boeing 747-400 G-CIVY. Photo: ©Vincenzo Pace

British Airways’ “Fire and Rehire” System

British Airways staff was warned that if an agreement was not reached, they would be handed their notice. They would then be re-hired on new contracts.

For much long-serving staff, BA’s plan would involve significant pay cuts, as well as changes to terms and conditions.

Unite, which represents thousands of BA employees including cabin crew, engineers and maintenance staff, has accused the airline of operating a ‘fire and rehire policy’.

British Airways B787-8 Dreamliner. Credits: Daniel Veronesi-RomeAviationSpotters

Unite Letter to British Airways

In a letter to BA CEO Alex Cruz, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey accuses Mr. Cruz of “arrogance” in his dealings with the union.

Mr. McCluskey says, “You have now published a timetable to fire and rehire thousands of your workforce on 7 August. We will work every hour between now and then to convince you not to do so.”

The secretary added, “You can take this letter as our commitment to do that. However, you can also take this as an intention to defend our members by moving towards industrial action with immediate effect.”

BA CEO Alex Cruz. Credits: British Airways

Reply from British Airways CEO

British Airways said the health crisis and lockdowns were the biggest challenges the airline and the industry had ever faced.

“It is disappointing that a company doing everything it can to save jobs is being singled out by Unite… Jobs are being lost across the country in every industry.” This was BA’s response to Unite’s letter.

The new contracts make BA competitive with lower-cost airlines, it said. 40% of cabin crew would get a pay rise; crew suffering cuts would see their basic pay drop by 20%. However, they also stand to lose shift pay, meaning drops of around 40% are possible.

“If staff accept the changes to the way they work or their terms and conditions, we expect to be able to save more jobs,” said BA.

Featured image: British Airways Boeing 777-236ER [G-VIIB] | Photo: © Aaron Davis