BA threatens to dismiss 19,000 staff unless they accept worse pay and conditions

For 10 weeks the British Airways fleet has barely moved. The airline is haemorrhaging money and is in the process of laying off staff to survive.

But even those who end up keeping their jobs are being asked to make sacrifices.

On 28th April, British Airways sent “Section 188” letters to three unions which represent 35,473 of its staff

ITV News has seen some of these letters which reveal that, in addition to making at least 12,455 redundancies, BA wants staff who remain to accept pay cuts and new terms and conditions.

In many cases, the airline wants employees to agree to include temporary lay-off clauses in their contracts, which would allow the airline to suspend staff for up to 6 weeks a years without pay.

Screenshot of a letter sent to BA staff.

The Section 188 letters state that BA will consider dismissing or terminate the contracts of at least 19,358 staff if agreement on the proposed changes cannot be reached.

In theory, the consultation period ends on 15th June. Balpa, which represents BA’s pilots, is in talks with the company but the Unite and GMB unions are currently refusing to engage with a process they claim is unlawful.

ITV News have spoken to a member of BA’s cabin crew who has worked for the airline for more than 20 years.

He told us that, if he avoids redundancy, he’ll have to accept new contract terms which mean he works longer hours with less downtime between flights. He would also suffer a 60% pay cut.

He asked us to protect his identity.

“If I had to be forced onto that contract, I would lose my home without any shadow of a doubt, I've had sleepless nights about it. I've started taking sleeping tablets to get sleep, I’m feeling very anxious all the time. Financially, it will devastate my life,” he told us.

“I do understand that the company is in a difficult position but it's the brutality, the way it's been done. No other company is threatening to fire and rehire people.”

Screenshot of a letter sent to a union from British Airways.

Like all airlines, British Airways is struggling to deal with both a collapse in demand for air travel and the restrictions that national governments have imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In a statement the company 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 to consult with us on our proposals as our pilot union, BALPA, is doing. Working together we can protect more jobs as we prepare for a new future.”

Three weeks ago, Willie Walsh, the head of IAG which owns BA, told MPs on the Transport Select Committee that BA faces “the most severe downturn the airline industry has witnessed”. The airline doesn’t expect bookings to return to pre-crisis levels for several years.

But the chair of that committee says BA’s behaviour is “outrageous,” not least as the company has furloughed 22,000 staff in the Job Retention Scheme.

Huw Merriman MP has called on the government to intervene.

“British Airways tends to charge higher prices. They trade off their reputation as the national flag carrier. There's a lot of patriotic pride and backing by this country, For BA, because of what it stands for and it doesn't stand for ripping off its staff at this most uncertain and dangerous of times,” Merriman told ITV News.

He added: “Do we really want our national flag used by a company who, in my view, are using this as this in a cynical manner to slash the terms and conditions of their staff at a time when their staff can't do anything about it? Is that where we want our Union Jack placed? Not in my view.”

Merriman wants the government to either to legislate to prevent BA from proceeding or to ensure that the Job Retention Scheme cannot be used by companies that make staff redundant.

Last week, Merriman asked the prime minister about the situation at BA at the liaison select committee. Boris Johnson said he is “concerned about the way some companies are treating their workforces”.

Asked if he would step in on behalf of BA’s staff, the prime minister replied that he is “aware of the issue” and is “actively looking at what [he] can do.”

With flights grounded and staff furloughed, the unions can’t strike even if they wanted to.

On the face of it, BA holds the whip hand but that could change if the government gets involved.