British Airways pilots demand better pay as aviation's summer of strife continues

·3 min read
british airways - REUTERS/John Sibley
british airways - REUTERS/John Sibley

British Airways pilots are seizing on a wave of summer strikes by ground crew colleagues with demands for a new pay deal.

Union leaders will this week open pay talks with BA, as pilots try to overturn a controversial deal agreed during the pandemic.

The talks come against a backdrop of strikes over pay elsewhere in the business. Summer holiday plans were thrown into doubt last week as hundreds of BA’s check-in and ground handling crew at Heathrow airport announced a walkout announced a walkout and are thought to be targeting the last two weekends of July.

Union officials said that the timing of the industrial action was designed to “maximise leverage” over bosses at the UK flag carrier and the wider economy.

BA has already faced a backlash from pilots over a Covid pay deal that siphons off thousands of pounds of their salaries to pay for colleagues left out of work by the pandemic.

Under a deal struck in July 2020, pilots accepted temporary pay cuts of 20pc, falling to 8pc over the following two years. It meant only 270 pilots were made redundant, compared with 1,255 originally expected to be laid off.

As it stands the deal is open-ended, meaning that the salary sacrifice could last for years if not decades. It means that pilots would effectively suffer a 9pc pay cut next year, union leaders said.

A proposal from BA last month to close the salary sacrifice scheme in 2028 was voted down by pilots, who are intent on agreeing a new pay round that would include pay rises rather than cuts.

Pilots are frustrated at plans for BA’s parent IAG to return to profitability this year alongside plans to increase lucrative share awards to executives.

Martin Chalk, general secretary of pilots union Balpa said: "Pilots are as unhappy with BA continuing to insist on pandemic mitigation concessions as inflation and staff shortages and demand that BA does much better.

“Passengers deserve a reliable service provided by motivated staff, staff deserve recognition for the huge sacrifices they made on behalf of their employer.

“Just as they have done for senior management, staff should be seeing their reward both return to 2019 levels and be increased to recognise the cost of living hikes."

The airline, privatised in 1987, retains much of the industrial relations complexity of a state-run business. There are multiple layers and grades throughout the organisation, each often represented by more than one trade union.

A source said: “You can’t agree on a pay deal with one without agreeing with another.”

BA now risks the ground crew industrial action spreading beyond Heathrow, its biggest base.

GMB and Unite unions are also consulting engineers and call centre staff at Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle on taking action.

A spokesman for BA said it was “committed to finding a solution” in response to staff demands for new pay deals.

They added: “Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4bn, we made an offer of a 10pc [bonus] payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues.”

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