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As new strike ballot gets underway, Unite tells BA ‘we’re ready to meet, are you?’

Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, has today extended an invitation to new British Airways chief executive, Keith Williams, to meet with him at any time to discuss solutions to the cabin crew dispute, now in its third year. The offer comes as Unite’s approximately 10,000 cabin crew members at the airline begin to vote for strike action for the fourth time in a two year period.

Unite says that, in marked contrast to his predecessor, Mr Williams has begun his tenure at the head of Britain’s national carrier by striking a more positive tone with cabin crew, telling them in a letter to them over the weekend that he wants the “angry words of the past” put behind both BA and the cabin crew.  Gone is talk of a “fight for the future” and in its place is praise for the “massive role” cabin crew play in caring for BA’s customers.

Welcoming this Len McCluskey says:

Of course, the time it has taken for the company to acknowledge its crew is concerning. When a company deems it an acceptable strategy to wage an all-out PR war against its own front line employees, the end result will always be disastrous. Being valued and having respect and dignity at work is what crew have been fighting for, so I am pleased at the tone of this changed approach.

Mr Williams goes on to say that he wants the angry words of the past put behind us so that we can find a language to reflect a common purpose and indicates that he is prepared to meet to seek a successful conclusion to your dispute.

This is music to my ears because we have been seeking such a meeting for some time. I have assured him that this union, and every single one of our Unite cabin crew members, would also like nothing better than to put this dispute behind them, and not only look into the future but also to “seize it”, as he rightly suggests.  However, the solution and ability to seize the opportunities before us must rest equally with the company, not just cabin crew. We remain willing, but BA must also have the ‘will’.

The fact that this dispute has had more ballots than any other in recent memory should serve to tell the company something. Clearly something is wrong in the way that the company is being managed but also led.”

Len McCluskey goes on to stress that Unite’s commitment to finding a common solution to the dispute is such that he will make himself available to meet with Keith Williams at anytime:

Today, I call upon Keith Williams, the new CEO of BA to meet me and cabin crew representatives anywhere, anytime to see if we can reach agreement. As the new CEO of BA, it is he, more than any single cabin crew member, that can play the biggest part in achieving this goal.

We have consistently said that negotiation not litigation or intimidation is the only way to resolve this dispute.

The spirit of the cabin crew will never be broken. Many remain in fear, not only of work moving to mixed fleet over time and the obvious implications of that, but also to simply be themselves in a company that has sacked 18 crew and suspended 70 more simply for supporting their union.  For BA to have created a workplace where good people are genuinely frightened to talk to each other, in case they say the wrong thing to the wrong person is plainly wrong.”

However, Mr McCluskey also warns Keith Williams that he should set aside careworn BA lines about running a full flight schedule should industrial action follow this fresh ballot:

Keith re‐states the line that the company will run 100 per cent of flights and any action taken will have no effect. How he can say that, I don’t know. He has no way of knowing what weird and wondrous initiatives we might take should we engage in industrial action. I’m afraid in this regard his thinking is outmoded.

It also gives weight to those who argue that his letter to crew is disingenuous. I hope not, but we shall see.

If BA is serious in its intent to resolve matters between us I am of course eager to move forward. It is the case that Keith Williams has never had the opportunity to meet a single one of our excellent cabin crew representatives. I am proud of them and I am firmly of the view that it could only be a positive step for him to now do so.

I will have my team ready and able to meet today. BA have my number – all they have to do is simply call me.”

The ballot of Unite’s approximately 10,000 cabin crew at British Airways gets underway today, Tuesday, March 1, and closes on Monday, March 28, 2011.  The first ballot was held in November 2009.  22 days of strike were held in 2010, costing the company at least £150 million in lost revenue and countless more in reputational damage.  Since spring 2010, the company has moved to sack 18 crew mmbers and discipline 70 more for matters in connection with the industrial dispute.

One Comment

  1. Vannerman says:

    You know that a union leader is getting desperate when he starts talking about ‘what weird and wondrous initiatives we might take should we engage in industrial action.’.

    Unite know that they cannot call a strike, even if they get a majority from the current ballot, because they have linked it to the previous dispute and hence any industrial action would be unprotected. Isn’t it time they were honest with the membership on this ?

    The union face a number of alternatives. One is to pursue industrial action and put at risk the jobs of those who follow a strike call. They could then use these martyrs to the cause to try and force through a change in the law. A second option is to find a wholly unrelated issue to ballot on which will garner sufficient support to prevent the airline from operating. The third is to come clean with the membership and admit that the prospect of industrial action is nil and that it would be better to settle this by negotiation, possibly by accepting the deal offered last year.

    In the meantime, Unite seem to be losing members amongst BA cabin crew at an alarming rate. Nearly 3,000 in only twelve months. It would seem that the union leadership are failing to engage with the rank and file. The lack of appetite for further strike action was demonstrated by the fact that just over half the union membership actually supported the ballot for further strikes. How many will support the
    ‘weird and wondrous initiatives ‘ that Unite may come up with this time around ?

    Without doubt the thing that is hampering effective action is the TULRCA legislation
    passed by the last Tory government. Whilst this may be unfair on workers, we did have over 10 years to get the Labour party to amend it and manifestly failed in that area. Thus we only have ourselves to blame for the present situation.

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