British Airways has been accused of “industrial thuggery” by Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union.
Unite represents many of the airline’s cabin crew.
BA has warned that the coronavirus pandemic is forcing it to cut jobs and renegotiate terms and conditions for remaining staff. Early in the crisis, the airline said it may make up to 12,000 of the airline’s 42,000 employees redundant.
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On Friday, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA’s parent company, IAG, said: “It will take until at least 2023 for passenger demand to recover to 2019 levels.
“Each airline has taken actions to adjust their business and reduce their cost base to reflect forecast demand in their markets not just to get through this crisis but to ensure they remain competitive in a structurally changed industry”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Mr McCluskey accused Mr Walsh of “thuggery of the worst industrial kind”.
He said: “Because most of our members are furloughed, they are in a vulnerable position and [Mr Walsh] believes he can walk all over them.
“No other company in the rest of the UK has adopted this type of tactic, this scorched-earth approach.
“For months and months we’ve been making it clear to British Airways that of course we recognise they are in deep financial difficulties.
“The whole of the aviation sector is, and the whole of the manufacturing sector is, and we want to sit down and discuss how we can assist them getting through this crisis.”
Some cabin crew are now taking redundancy. On Twitter, “Pawsntails” wrote: “@British_Airways. Watching so many friends tearfully accept they have no choice but to accept the paltry offers after months of mental torture and anguish from management.
“You have literally lost the heart of the airline. Hundreds of special, kind, skilled people you cast aside.”
In July Unite conducted a poll of more than 2,000 people, three out of five of them British Airways passengers, which claimed 61 per cent of the public believe BA should be stripped of slots at Heathrow because of its plans.
A spokesperson for British Airways said: “We are acting now to protect as many jobs possible. The airline industry is facing the deepest structural change in its history, as well as facing a severely weakened global economy.
“We call on Unite and GMB [representing ground-based staff] to work with us as our pilots’ union, Balpa, is doing. Working together we can protect more jobs as we prepare for a new future.”
On Friday, members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) working for BA voted overwhelmingly to accept a deal under which up to 270 pilots – six per cent – will lose their jobs.
The remainder take temporary 20 per cent pay cuts.
Mr McCluskey said: “We will accept the pilots’ deal. The fact of the matter is of course that British Airways are not offering the same deal.”
A former BA senior executive told The Independent: “The complete failure of Unite to even engage with BA until it was effectively too late has bordered on the negligent, whereas Balpa has engaged in smart negotiations and achieved a much better outcome than Unite.
“That is now apparent for all BA staff to see. The cabin crew union’s default position in every dispute or even discussion over the past 30 years has been one of confrontation and intransigence.”
From today some of British Airways’ senior management team will be working in older premises at Heathrow amid the airline’s engineering complex, with its £200m headquarters building at Waterside being largely mothballed.
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