Why are BA Pilots about to strike for the first time in 30 years?

The British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) has never been a militant union. Despite some complicated recent negotiations regarding Pensions, Pay and Work Coverage, BALPA had developed an effective, professional, business-partnership approach with British Airways (BA). We succeeded in areas where many analysts predicted conflict. The issue which has brought us to the brink of Industrial Action has been handled very differently by BA.

In previous negotiations all ideas were on the table; this time BA has constrained what could be discussed. With Pensions, Pay and Work Coverage, extremely sensitive information was shared and confidentiality agreements were signed and adhered to - this time all information exchange has been refused right up to ballot result. These successfully negotiated agreements saw many options tabled, priced and rigorously tested; this time alternatives have not even been considered. We don't know why BA has changed its approach, but such behaviour does not engender trust.

So, what's it all about? BA is starting a new airline that doesn't use BA pilots. Put simply, the dispute is about maintaining employment contracts and ensuring job opportunities for BA pilots. BA has stated that where market competitive prices can be achieved, BA resources will be used in their new European airline - OpenSkies. Despite this, BA has refused to consider using BA pilots. No cost analysis has been completed and BALPA's offer of market rate prices has been ignored. In the evolving, deregulated world of aviation, BA pilots must have access to core growth opportunities outside London. This is known as "scope". BA has refused to acknowledge BALPA's concerns. The Company concluded our internal dispute resolution process with a "final offer"; they walked away from negotiations. Our ballot result indicates an overwhelming majority of BA's pilots (86% of returns) refuse to accept BA's final offer. We're about to explore formal conciliation but BA's position has to materially change. If intransigence continues we will be left with the stark choice of the final offer or industrial action.

BA is breaking the intent clause in our contracts now. Already 15 non-BA pilots have been employed by OpenSkies - these are lost employment opportunities for BA pilots. OpenSkies is outsourcing of BA Pilot opportunities. These are BA Aircraft, in BA colours, with BA management, riding on the back of the BA brand, utilising BA profits in a regulatory environment that will allow this new airline to undermine the jobs of BA pilots. That is why we want to update our "scope" clause (Schedule K) but the company have stated: "even if BALPA was minded to recommend the Company's proposal, BA would not even consider making any proposed changes to schedule K to meet the changed regulatory environment".

What are BALPA's concerns? This final offer breaches the scope agreement. There are no employment opportunities on aircraft one, limited access on aircraft 2 to 6 and no guaranteed access beyond aircraft 6. Additionally, employment security is undermined by the creation of a separate group of pilots within the BA family. Keeping the two pilots groups separate ensures OpenSkies pilots will have no interest in the terms and conditions in Mainline. They will work for lesser conditions in order to secure work and opportunities which should belong to BA pilots. This is the true reason for BA's belligerence. This "Trojan Horse" model has been used successfully in Qantas, Iberia and American Airlines to generate a new, cheaper, growth vehicle that eventually undermines the Terms and Conditions of employment for the core airline's pilots.

So, what do BALPA want?

  • Every pilot flying a BA Group aircraft to be selected and trained to the standards that we all demonstrate; the standards that define our brand; the same brand BA is using to sell OpenSkies.
  • Schedule K revising so that it is fit for purpose in today’s regulatory environment.
  • A common seniority list that allows reciprocal access to all BA Group flying, on appropriate terms and conditions and recognising any "engagement freezes" that may be applicable.

Written by BALPA, edited by ECA