Unite recommends rejection in BA cabin crew ballot and challenges BA's motives for settlement

Unite the union has begun balloting its 12,000 cabin crew members on the latest offer from British Airways management, with a strong recommendation that they reject the proposal.

In a letter to crew accompanying the ballot Unite joint general secretary, Tony Woodley, outlined three main reasons why cabin crew should vote to reject the offer.

First is the failure of BA to fully restore travel concessions from all crew who took industrial action. BA will take away ‘seniority’ based travel which means that crew with long service will lose out disproportionately from those with a few years service.

Tony wrote: “This plan aims to treat loyal employees and trade unionists as permanent second-class citizens, branded for having supported the union and humiliated for having taken democratically-endorsed and fully-legal strike action. There is no way on earth this union could ever accept such a sanction. The fact that management has been so insistent on its position on this matter, even though it is an issue of almost no financial consequence, must inevitably give rise to concerns about BA’s entire attitude and outlook to the future of industrial relations.”

The second reason for Unite recommending rejection is the company’s disciplinary actions against over 50 crew members who have been suspended on charges arising from the dispute. Four crew have already been dismissed. Unite proposed having disciplinaries which result in dismissal go to an appeal hearing to be held by a third party such as Acas, but BA refused to agree.

Tony Woodley wrote: “The charges in the great majority of cases are entirely trivial and barely worthy of a slap on the wrist, let alone the sack. This evidence of victimisation and draconian punishments – in some cases directed against your representatives – render worthless the words in the offer designed to rule out such behaviour.”

The third and most general reason for rejection relates to Unite’s loss of trust in BA’s commitment in finding a solution to the dispute.

Mr Woodley wrote: “Any agreement is only as good as the integrity and sincerity of those putting their names to it. By their actions and behaviour throughout the dispute, and continuing to this day, it is impossible to take BA management’s words at face value.

I have had a considerable experience of strikes and disputes. Normally, the sort of issues we are referring to here – the removal of sanctions imposed during a strike, the speedy and sensitive winding down of all but the most genuinely serious disciplinary issues arising from a dispute – are straight-forward matters of industrial common sense, dealt with swiftly once the issues of substance between the two sides have been resolved. Yet in this case it is precisely on these issues that management has proved most intransigent of all.

This is at the very least a major failure of industrial statesmanship by Mr Walsh, fanning the flames of conflict at the very moment when peace would otherwise have been at hand. At worst, it is a clear statement of intent – that the company wishes to break trade unionism among its cabin crew, not by a formal act of de-recognition (unattainable under present legislation because of our collective strength and organisation), but by a process of bullying, humiliation and piece-meal victimisation until you are left with no effective protection or the smallest measure of control over your working environment.”

The consultative ballot of BA cabin crew members will close on 7 May.

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