British Airways has gone to court to seek an injunction to prevent its pilots from striking after union members voted, by an overwhelming majority, to strike rather than accept the airline’s proposed pay increase.
British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) members voted 93% in favor of a strike on 90% turn out. British Airways is offering pilots a pay increase of 11.5% spread over three years, and said that both Unite and GMB trade unions—which represent almost 90% of BA staff—have recommended the airline’s offer to their members.
The three unions made a joint claim for better compensation in November of last year. They cited the airline’s improved financial performance —from a £230 million ($238 million) operating loss in 2009 to a £1.8 billion ($2.24 billion) profit in 2017 — as justification.
BA has said the threat of a pilot strike could disrupt summer holiday travel for thousands of its passengers. However, BALPA have not set dates for the strike and the airline has yet to make any changes to its schedule.
BALPA General Secretary, Brian Strutton, claims the aim is not to disrupt summer holidays and blames the airline for the timing of the breakdown in talks.
“We have tried to resolve this matter through negotiation starting last November – it is BA who has regrettably chosen to drag this out into the summer months,” he stated.
Headed to court
British Airways went to court today for an injunction against industrial action by BALPA members, but the court has decided against the airline.
The airline claimed that the union had failed to comply with balloting rules. This claim has previously brought BA success in court, but has also caused controversy with the decision reversed on appeal.
The decision to go to court had put a halt to negotiations, though both parties said they would like to avoid strike action through negotiations.
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the BALPA union, indicated they would like to return to negotiations after the court’s decision. “Although legally clear to do so, we have still not set any strike dates to give BA one last chance to commit to negotiating on pilots’ pay and rewards with us,” he said in a statement.
British Airways said it will return to negotiations but seems unwilling to compromise.
“We will continue to pursue every avenue to protect the holidays of thousands of our customers this summer,” the airline said in a statement. “Our proposed pay offer of 11.5% over three years is fair.”
Balancing the books
The union says that one day of strikes would cost BA more than BALPA members are asking for, and the airline industry faces a critical shortage of pilots, but labor is a significant portion of airline costs and European airlines face pressures on yields. IATA estimates that the European airline industry generated $12 billion in operating profits during 2018, with an average operating margin of only 6%.
Ryanair isn’t budging either
The court’s decision is still welcome news for BALPA, as they negotiate with BA competitor and European low-cost behemoth Ryanair.
The pilots’ union has also warned of potential industrial action against Ryanair and those talks are going worse than talks with British Airways.
Strutton said, “We have not been able to make any progress with Ryanair at all on any of our areas of concern. As usual with Ryanair, it’s their way or the highway, and we are not prepared to put up with that.”
Ryanair has a history of tackling industrial actions by adjusting service as needed, even if it means shutting down bases, but the airline has a strong base at Stansted Airport that is critical to its operations.
I worked in aviation from 1994-2010 before turning my experience to writing about airlines and airports for leading industry and consumer publications in 2013. I’ve spent months in the hangars of airlines and aircraft manufacturers, dressed aircraft seats by hand, and worked with crew at training centres around the world. I’ve negotiated with airline CEOs and worked with buyers, engineers, leading design firms, suppliers and aircraft manufacturers on the launch of new programs. I was the executive responsible to international regulators on the approval of cabin equipment, with oversight of production facilities, product testing laboratories, a maintenance center, and a certified hazardous materials repair station. I even hold a patent for a military-spec life raft. Now, I translate “aviation speak” into English, breaking barriers of acronyms and jargon to make the beautiful business of flight easier to value. I also really, really love being on a plane—even in the middle seat.