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BA cabin crew staff accept pay rise after bitter dispute

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A bitter dispute between some British Airways cabin crew and management has ended after almost a year.

Cabin crew members of the Unite union working for BA’s mixed fleet unit at Heathrow have accepted a pay deal by a majority of five to one.

Mixed fleet was set up as part of the settlement of the last big cabin crew dispute at British Airways, which ended in 2011.

Staff have inferior employment terms to longer-serving cabin crew, despite operating about one-third of flights to and from Heathrow.

Last December cabin crew voted four-to-one in favour of strike action over “poverty pay and broken promises”.

Unite described cases of cabin crew sleeping in their cars at Heathrow between shifts because they could not afford the petrol to drive home. The union said that crew were “at breaking point” and argued that “low pay is a safety issue”.

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BA said at the time: “We have proposed a fair and reasonable pay increase to Mixed Fleet cabin crew which is in line with that accepted by other British Airways colleagues.”

Unite said the average member of mixed fleet earned £16,000 annually, but British Airways refuted this figure and said the lowest-paid full-time member of mixed fleet earned over £21,000.

Talks averted a strike over the Christmas and New Year period, but a deal put to mixed fleet cabin crew was unexpectedly rejected.

A series of strikes ensued, culminating in almost continuous industrial action through the summer peak of July and August.

The strikers were supported by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and other Labour MPs including Dennis Skinner. 

As the dispute rumbled on, the airline was accused of “punishing workers” who took part in stoppages by withdrawing travel concessions. One striker described the life of Mixed Fleet cabin crew as “working for North Korean Airlines”.

It was reported that some flights were operated with only the legal minimum of crew, which diminished customer service. But the 85 strike days had far less impact on BA’s operations than the 2010-11 industrial action. The proportion of flights cancelled was never more than a low, single-figure percentage of the schedule. 

British Airways brought in a fleet of planes and crews belonging to its part-owner Qatar Airways, some of whose planes were idle because of the geo-political conflict in the Gulf, and deployed them on dozens of short-haul links in July and August. As a result, less than one per cent of summer flights were cancelled.

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Talks restarted in September, and concluded with a settlement that will see salaries rise by between £1,404 and £2,908 by March 2018, depending on experience.

In addition travel concessions and participation in the airline’s 2017 bonus scheme have been restored. 

Unite has dropped the legal action against British Airways.

The union’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, praised the “determination and solidarity” of Unite members and shop stewards, adding: “Not only does this pay deal start to seriously address long-standing concerns on low pay in British Airways’ mixed fleet, but it also shows that it pays to be a member of a union and of Unite.

“Unite looks forward to continuing to work with British Airways in representing our members and ensuring the airline goes from strength to strength in these uncertain times.”

A BA spokesperson said: “We are pleased the dispute has been resolved.”

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