‘LEGAL and industrial action is inevitable,’ Unite said yesterday, the day a mass meeting took place at the grounds of Bedfont FC in Feltham, Twickenham after British Airways sacked 42,000 workers in a ‘sign or be sacked’ scheme where workers had to agree to work under inferior contracts or lose their job.
Unite said: ‘The prospect of industrial action, including strike action, at the airline’s Heathrow hub, has already been raised by a workforce furious at the mistreatment heaped upon them by their employer since the Covid-19 crisis began.’
Their statement reads: ‘British Airways is heading for months of industrial unrest unless it steps back from proposals which will effectively force thousands of workers onto punitive and insecure zero-hours-type contracts.’
The warning comes from Unite, the main union at the airline, which said at 00:01 hours on Wednesday that BA’s claims that settlements have been reached with the workforce are ‘a deliberate effort to mislead and cause division’.
‘The union is also challenging the airline on its further attacks on the redundancy payments of workers leaving the company voluntarily.
‘Despite claims that the airline has reached settlements with Unite over its plans for the workforce, key parts of the workforce, including the ground services staff who move aircraft around airports, along with the cabin crew, as well as other industrial groups are still resisting the ‘hire and fire’ imposition which effectively sweeps away the pay, conditions and job security of tens of thousands of BA workers, causing public and political outrage.
‘The airline has also forced 6,000 workers to leave the business by the end of August, and is seeking to force out 4,000 more.
‘In addition to industrial action, Unite is considering supporting potentially thousands of workers in employment tribunal cases against the company where workers have been misled on the monetary value of voluntary redundancy.’
Unite’s assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: ‘BA’s appalling behaviour puts that of a Victorian mill owner to shame.
‘Make no mistake however, this fight is far from over. In fact, it’s only just beginning. Despite BA’s deliberate efforts to mislead and divide, there can be no peace while this wealthy business is determined to make the lowest paid pay the highest price in an opportunistic re-structuring while the better-off get to keep their pay and conditions.
‘Overnight, Willie Walsh and his managers are turning British Airways into a mass user of what are effectively wholly flexible contracts which will be completely open to abuse. This an employment scandal, and a very dark day for this country, where BA still pretends to lay claim to national carrier status.
‘Unite is utterly determined that BA will not get away with this thuggery, and we will fight this grotesque abuse of decent working people with every tool at our disposal. If that means months of going through the courts and taking strike action to protect workers, so be it. BA has left these workers and its union no other choice.
‘In standing up to this bully, they will receive the total support of their union, Unite.’
Oliver Richardson, Unite’s national officer for civil aviation, added: ‘Those who feel that they have no choice but to remain with a company that has launched a war on its workforce will have to endure pay cuts but will have no job security and no control over when they work, as BA will pick and choose at a moment’s notice.
‘The worst abuses of modern employment are now being imposed by our so-called national carrier. It is an industrial and political disgrace and it is the responsibility of us all to resist it.’
Unite has said that the airline’s shocking refusal to use the government jobs retention scheme to retain workers during this crisis is one reason that it should forfeit its rights to lucrative slots such as that between Heathrow and New York JFK.
Dave Wiltshire, secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance (ATUA) said: ‘Unite members are justifiably extremely angry at the refusal of their union to take BA head on and to defend every job and oppose all wage cuts.
‘Unite members must demand their union take national strike action and call on the TUC to mobilise other workers to defeat what is a huge attack on the entire working class.
‘Forward to a general strike and for BA to be re-nationalised under workers management.’