A peace deal has been reached in the 18-month dispute between British Airways and its cabin crew, only days before the next wave of industrial action was due to take place.
The settlement, agreed between the airline and Unite, was backed at a mass meeting near Heathrow airport of nearly 2,000 members of the trade union’s cabin crew branch, the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association, yesterday.
It will now be put to a ballot of 9,000 staff for final ratification, but confirmation is expected to be a mere formality. The move will lead to the cancellation of a wave of strikes that could have started as early as next week.
The deal ends a damaging 18-month dispute between the two parties, which included 22 days of walk-outs leading to the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The situation cost BA an estimated £150 million and tarnished its reputation both at home and abroad.
After months of deadlock, the breakthrough came following changes at the top of both BA and Unite. Keith Williams took over from the abrasive Willy Walsh as the airline’s chief executive, while Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint general secretary, handed over the reins to Len McLuskey.
The settlement saw staff travel concessions restored – the key issue that had been holding up earlier agreement. The withdrawal of free and discounted flights as part of disciplinary action against workers who went out on strike was a particularly sensitive matter as many cabin crew live abroad but work out of UK airports.
A two-year pay deal was also agreed which, subject to productivity improvements, will result in staff receiving increases of 4% and 3.5% each year respectively. In return, Unite has accepted the introduction of ‘new fleet’ changes, which will see fresh recruits employed on less generous terms than existing personnel. Such proposed changes to working practices were the key trigger for industrial action in the first place.
But McCluskey said: “A great deal of credit goes to the new chief executive, Keith Williams, who said he knew we want an honourable settlement. We always said that the dispute could only be resolved by negotiation, not through litigation, not through confrontation and not through intimidation.”
BA also welcomed the deal. A spokesman said: “On behalf of our customers, we are very pleased the threat of industrial action has been lifted and that we have reached a point where we can put this dispute behind us.”
The settlement saw the union acknowledge that the “cost-saving structural changes we have made in cabin crew operations are permanent” and that changes had been agreed to “modernise our crew industrial relations” in order to help ensure that this kind of dispute could not happen again, he added.