The TUC has tried and failed abysmally to help BASSA (The British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association) and its parent union, UNITE, to win its argument with BA.
Before they got involved, the TUC should have been aware of the following:
- Much of what BA wants is perfectly reasonable. Some of the old-style working practices were unacceptable. Most cabin crew do not seriously defend these.
- The high salaries of cabin crew quoted in the Press are highly misleading. They only apply to a small proportion of older staff working their way out of the company on contracts which go back to BOAC days. Younger cabin crew earn substantially less and no one could consider them over-paid by industry averages.
- The true sticking points in negotiations are fairly small but significant. In particular, there is a real concern amongst cabin crew that the airline really only wants to employ a constantly changing group of young, and cheap, crew.
- The other part of the dispute is more complicated. BA management wants to break BASSA. They do not want to be dominated by the union any longer. So far, BASSA have played into BA’s hands – most crew are very disillusioned by the way BASSA has negotiated with BA and it seems likely that once the dispute is over, BASSA will either have to change radically or disappear. Crew are also angry that BASSA has played an “all or nothing” game – making an agreement earlier would have allowed them to obtain some concessions which would have eased the fears that BA wanted only to employ cheap, young crew.
Now, faced with the above, how do you negotiate?
The art of negotiation is to get the points you want whilst making the other side think they have won.
If the unions had said to BA that they will agree all their terms but with a few exceptions, they might have got close to what they want.
Instead, they presented their “alternative savings” plan to show how the company could save money. This is just a red rag to a bull. BA management is paid to manage. They do not want to be told how to manage by a union – especially when part of their aim is to loosen the grip of the union! Agreeing – even in part – to the alternative savings plan would have handed victory to BASSA which is inconceivable.
This tactic was doomed to failure from the start. It might not come as a suprise to discover that BASSA are so thick they could not see this and it is probably not much of a surprise to discover that UNITE are no cleverer, but one might have hoped that someone in the upper echelons of the TUC would have understood that the unions had been using an unworkable negotiating strategy.
The longer the dispute goes on, the less chance there is of getting any concessions from BA and the more likely it is that cabin crew will feel they have been sold down the river by both their company and the unions.