British Airways pilot strike out of touch with reality - Mark Casci

British Airways strike - Getty picture
British Airways strike - Getty picture
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On the rare occasions that the interminable Brexit debate has not been dominating every second of debate in recent weeks, talk of age of austerity has been gaining some traction.

After nearly a decade of strict controls on the use of public money, and with a General Election highly likely to occur in the near future, it is hardly surprising that politicians have been reaching for the Magic Money Tree to make big promises on spending.

British Airways

British Airways

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For public sector workers, the last few years have seen wages fail to keep pace with the cost of living, often by some considerable margin.

Given this freeze, I can only imagine what our nurses, teachers, library staff and council employees have made of the shenanigans with the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa).

Balpa has walked away from an 11.5 per cent pay increase offer from British Airways and has initiated a 48-hour strike, grounding an estimated 1,700 flights and throwing the plans of some 145,000 passengers worldwide into chaos.

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A pay increase of this magnitude, while massive, needs to be viewed in proper context before we make any judgement.

British Airways strike - Getty images

British Airways strike - Getty images

The 11.5 per cent offer BA made to staff has been accepted by an estimated 90 per cent of its workforce.

If Balpa had accepted the increase it would take the salary of some of its captains to more than £200,000 a year. Many pilots would see their pay push past the £100,000 mark if they had accepted. By way of comparison, captains with the likes of budget airline Ryanair receive around £135,000 per year for their labour.

While a pay rise of 11.5 per cent may be the stuff of dreams for many workers, private and public sector alike, it is nonetheless being deemed unacceptable by unions. Balpa points to the high levels of profitability seen at BA in recent years and says that its pilots are entitled to a share of the success they created.

Read more: British Airways flights cancelled amid strike action
It makes mention of the fact that pilots with BA voluntarily took a pay cut when the airline faced tough times, a reference to the 2.6 per cent decrease they agreed upon 10 years ago.

Balpa further adds that BA is making the situation far worse by not listening to their calls for an increase on the 11.5 per cent, saying that the strike will cost BA £40m a day when their dispute could be settled for £5m.

And it says that senior executive pay levels have been very high in recent years, something it should reflect in the salaries of its pilots.

Both sides have said they want to resume talks, but there is little or no sign of the deadlock being broken and Balpa general secretary, Brian Strutton, has been bullish, saying BA bosses must “wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard”.

The tone from BA chief executive Alex Cruz was hardly any less emollient. Referencing the “cynical actions” of the strike action he described Balpa as having registered “an own-goal for the union”.

British Airways is one of the nation’s most recognisable and prestigious brands. It enjoys a strong reputation among passengers in an era in which entirely necessary enhanced security measures mean that the flying experience is often less than pleasurable.

Notwithstanding the chaos this strike action will bring on hundreds of thousands of innocent passengers, the optics of this industrial action are terrible and not just for BA.

It also comes off the back of Balpa bringing industrial action at Ryanair, seeking to inflate the already above market rate of its pilots working for the budget airline.

Pay increases to allow for a better reflection of the cost of living are an entirely reasonable request from unions.

But with the economy currently showing signs of contraction, ever-present uncertainty and a public sector creaking after a decade of stagnant funding, to knock back an 11.5 per cent pay offer will be unconscionable to most right-minded people.

Balpa and its members must look again at its approach to this and ask itself if punishing passengers to swell already very sizeable pay packets is a moral course of action in 2019.