Looking for my new blog?

Friday 1 March 2013

You’ll find it here.

Christmas wrapping-up: Goodbye blogging

Friday 24 December 2010

Avid readers of this blog (err, my mum, Jerry Hicks, a few people who used to support Les Bayliss) may have noticed I’ve not updated it much recently. Mainly that’s because I’ve left Tribune magazine and started a new job in financial reporting. Unlike Tribune it’s full time and hard work, so I’ve much les time on my hands to get in touch with trade unionists and blog about industrial stuff and politics.

So I’ve decided/been forced to mothball this blog, at least for the time being. For the next few weeks I won’t even attempt to update it regularly. There isn’t time, I’m afraid. The update I wrote today will be the last one for a while, if not forever.

But before I go, there are a few thing that need saying and can be safely said here. I started this blog in mid-2008 in a desperate attempt to get more reader than the low-circulation pages of Tribune would allow. But if that was selfish, then hopefully the way I have written it hasn’t been entirely so: I have tried, quite hard sometimes, to tell the truth about things which don’t see the light of day often enough. That’s especially the case with trade union politics. The demise of industrial reporting means journalist aren’t reporting and scrutinising trade unions in the way that their members or the public deserve.

I have quite enjoyed writing the blog. I am grateful to everyone who has read it for reading it. And I’m particularly grateful to people who’ve read it and then come forward with information and assistance with my stories. You know who you are. Your generosity is touching, and I offer big thanks. How couldn’t it be? I can’t offer anything in reward, and indeed I shouldn’t, so more often than not I think this has been a selfless act [update - on their part, I meant]. As a journalist I am humbled by people who give those precious nuggets of info with no thought of reward. I won’t try and name names, partly because some people might get into trouble if they were so named. That’s one of the problems with internal trade union politics especially, and politics generally.

Most of the people I’ve met in trade unions and politics have been either okay or nice; some have been exceptionally nice, cheerful, kind, sunny, helpful and so on. They’ve made life more worth living. A small number however have chosen to be hostile, or even malevolent. I mean they’ve tried to get me into trouble for no good reason. The reason, as far as I could make out, was that I was writing things which didn’t agree with the PR line they were trying to enforce and they saw it as their (paid) job to squash anyone who threatened that line. Sometimes this has been actually scary. Again, a problem with internal union politics, though that doesn’t wipe away personal responsibility. But spare a thought for the people who have to deal with that all the time, and not just because of a blog. Not everyone involved worked for a union either.

And I won’t mention the MP who upset me a bit by texting me in fury, called me “disgracefull” [sic] and said “please do not speak to me again” over something I wrote he found unhelpful. (Oh all right, it was Jon Cruddas. To be fair, I’m sure he was under a great deal of stress at the time – but I had not misreported him.)

These people didn’t get, or didn’t want to get, that I am not interested in helping the Labour Party, the TUC, Ed Miliband, or any of those trade union general secretaries through my journalism. That’s the difference between journalism and PR. This may sound obvious to you. I can assure you that it is not obvious to them.

Anyway, that’s a wrap, for now. Diehard fans can check this blog again in mid-February by which time I’ll have hopefully made my mind up what to do with it. I don’t want to abandon industrial affairs: it’s been far too stimulating and fun.

Again thanks to all my readers and those who’ve helped out. I’ll not forget. And since ’tis the season to be jolly, even if you’re out of work or otherwise feeling the pinch, I’ll leave you with Christmas wrapping of a different kind. When not obsessing about unions I obsess about music, and this is one band I like a lot. Merry Christmas! (Even you, Jon).

Update, 21 January: Tribune editor Chris McLaughlin has been in touch to say that some people took the comment above about Tribune being a ‘low circulation’ magazine to signify that it was in financial difficulty, or otherwise in trouble. I’m sorry if anyone took it that way; that wasn’t my intention, nor did I want to put the magazine down, so I’m happy to set the record straight and say so. For the record also, Chris tells me that it’s inaccurate to call Tribune ‘low circulation’. However I stand by what I’ve written.

What is Len McCluskey to do now?

Wednesday 8 December 2010

The short answer is: unite Unite the union, win the argument on public sector cuts vs. investment and stop the union’s membership from collapsing any further (I hear Unison general secretary Dave Prentis is going around telling activists that his union’s membership – over 1.37 million at the last count – is now higher than Unite’s – over 1.57 million last year).

The first will be hard enough. See my post below for a comment from a Unite member complaining that McCluskey’s victory amounts to a coup by the T&G half of Unite and its former general secertary’s preferred candidate. Not everyone will oppose that – the Amicus officials shunted around by Derek Simpson, for instance, or the officials of the MSF union who felt that their merger with the AEEU (to form Amicus) amounted to an aggressive takeover by an undemocratic Simpson.

There’s also the ‘fear factor’ – which McCluskey mentioned in his speech at his victory party. Accusations of bullying and harassment within Unite, among full-time and lay officials are not hard to come by, although I wouldn’t suggest it is the norm. And they can’t all have appeared out of thin air. These claims often have their roots in trade union politics – like which general secertary candidate you support, for example.

At least one national officer of Unite is convinced that their phone is tapped – yes, tapped – by the leadership. Even if they are wrong, this suggests paranoia on a grand scale. It is these sorts of obstacles that McCluskey will have to overcome.

And all the while, he’ll have to persuade non-members that the unino is worth joining and win industrial battles – not least at British Airways, where the dispute, now over a year old, drags on, to the weariness of cabin crew who complain of sackings and bullying.

McCluskey, who used to be in charge of the dispute but whose name does not appear on the now-scrapped draft agreement between BA and Unite, has been taunted by election runner-up Jerry Hicks over the dispute and other things, like his union’s support for Labour.

Hicks told me after the result: “Our campaign is the official opposition within Unite, because our election address was so different from the others. Our priority is to resist the cuts. Our eyes are on him [McCluskey]. He needs to do the right thing.” Hicks doesn’t think McCluskey is any good at doing the right thing though, and scorns the McCluskey camp for, he claims, not expecting him to come second. “When are people at  least going to give me credit for at least having a better analysis than them?”

So is Hicks really going to be a thorn in McCluskey’s side? I asked what his “official opposition” amounted to (would he encourage lay officials not tocarry out union policy if he thought it was wrong?), but didn’t get an answer.

Friends of the departed Les Bayliss and almost-departed Derek Simpson may also be seen as a source of opposition. The Workers Uniting Group faction soldiers on under the leadership of officials like assistant general secertary Tony Burke. No doubt they would say that they back the new leader, but will the bitterness of the election campaign – and the long, hidden battle for the future of Unite that preceded it – be forgotten so easily?

Belated update, 24 Dec: I’ve been asked, strenuously, to clarify matters. Workers’ Uniting Group has been wound up, according to a notice on its website (which was not there when I wrote this piece – the site and its blog were live and being updated at the time). The officials behind it, I am equally strenuously told, are right behind Len McCluskey. They were, of course, right behind his arch-rival Les Bayliss less than a month ago. But this blog shouldn’t speculate about people’s motives without any facts  – so I won’t.

I’m also told that Les Bayliss has not walked into a new job – my blogpost below mentioned an unconfirmed report that he had a new job. I never insisted that Bayliss did have a new job; that’s why I said it was an unconfirmed report. Right now, I’m told, he has no job. Whether  he’s totally bereft or taking a break is another matter. More to the point, he’s out of Unite – I did say that, and it was right.

London fire strike ballot : not on after all

Thursday 2 December 2010

Last week I blogged that there was definitely going to be a strike ballot amongst support staff at London Fire Brigade. It turns out I was wrong.

I wasn’t lying or turning a maybe into a definite; I was just given information that changed. After I spoke to Clive Smith at the GMB’s regional office, he and his colleagues decided that they needed to do more work to make their paperwork “shipshape”.

He wouldn’t say what that means, but my understanding is the union’s membership records for LFB aren’t deemed to be 100% accurate. Which is what the British Airways strike fell foul of. If it turns out that the GMB have balloted a few members who’ve left their jobs, or even have different job types now from when their details were gathered, a court could rule the strike ballot unlawful. So they’re not taking any chances.

Smith said he was hopeful that industrial action was still capable of being taken before the end of the year, if they vote for it. But it’s now December, holidays are approaching fast and the employer needs seven days’ notice of a ballot: time has almost run out.

So. Farewell then, Les Bayliss

Wednesday 1 December 2010

As I write, Les Bayliss, former Unite assistant general secretary for finance and third-placed candidate in the general secretary election, has quit his job and supporters of Len McCluskey are celebrating their election victory at a Central London hotel. Bayliss was of course the preferred candidate of joint gen sec Derek Simpson, who leaves his post formally on New Year’s Eve, leaving McCluskey and his backer Tony Woodley in charge.

Unconfirmed reports say that Bayliss is to join the Joint Industry Board for the Electrical Contracting Industry, which regulates relations between electrical contracting companies and one union (guess which).

A Unite official tells me: “The general secretary’s [Simpson] gone. The power base has gone. If they stay on after that, they risk getting insulted.”

This is a family blog, and my mum reads it, so I won’t report some of the other things said about Bayliss by his critics at McCluskey’s leaving party – you can probably guess. The serious point is: now he’s gone, will the union be able to unite around McCluskey, his bitter adversary for the top job? On which more later.

P.S. The number of Unite election casualties now stands at two. The first was Richard O’Brien, former joint head of communications for Unite and PR man for the Bayliss campaign, who resigned, and walked, as soon as the result was announced.

Another Unite official (and McCluskey supporter) asked if anyone else from the Bayliss camp should quit, said: “I don’t think it should go any further” and denounced the practice of purging officials in the former Amicus section.

Strike ballot on at London’s fire authority

Saturday 27 November 2010

When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. As Brian Coleman, chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, finds his colourful remarks about the Fire Brigades Union are disapproved of upstairs, so the two other unions represented at London Fire Brigade prepare to take action in defence of their redundancy pay. (I first wrote about the likelihood of this happening earlier this month).

Unison and the GMB union, who represent about 80 per cent of LFB’s 1000 or so support and office staff, served notice on their employer this week to ballot for strike action after LFB decided to cut severance pay from three weeks for every year worked to one week. The unions say this is a breach of contract; the bosses say it isn’t.

“Although further talks were mooted, we got the impression the employer wasn’t particularly serious about them,” says GMB regional organiser Clive Smith. “There’s been no proper offer for us to consider.”

The ballot should start next week and, in case of a yes vote (which they expect) the strike could theoretically be as soon as the week after that, though it seems unlikely.

Meanwhile the FBU dispute remains unresolved – and the possibility remains that all three unions could co-ordinate action.

Unite election: decoded

Monday 22 November 2010

I didn’t get a chance to blog yesterday about Len McCluskey’s victory in the Unite election, which has now been covered everywhere from the Morning Star to ConservativeHome*. However I did gather some thoughts and views…

1) Len McCluskey’s impressive vote share – 42.4 per cent, about 101,000 votes – was (just) more than Jerry Hicks and Les Bayliss combined, which will have surprised some. Hicks and McCluskey were vying for the left-wing vote, and for one reason or another the insurgent didn’t persuade nearly enough supporters to desert the favourite.

Asked why, Hicks says: “McCluskey had a thumping great army of officers working on his behalf.” It’s true that a lot of full-time officers supported McCluskey; whether they ‘worked’ for him I can’t really say. This impressive list of McCluskey supporters left out two key people – Simon Dubbins, director of the international department and former candidate, and Andrew Murray, director of communications and long-standing right hand-man of Tony Woodley, who anointed McCluskey as his successor.

2) That said, Hicks has again pulled off the trick of beating a full-time officer into third place in a leadership election (last year it was Kevin Coyne, this year Les Bayliss). Speaking to me yesterday, Hicks was full of scorn for those who though the election was a straight fight between Bayliss and McCluskey: “If the United Left [the McCluskey faction] and their candidate see Les Bayliss as their threat, they’re not going to get the analysis right beyond the union.”

3) We shouldn’t overlook Gail Cartmail,  who was only three percentage points behind Les Bayliss (16.4 per cent to his 19.3 per cent) despite a rather lower profile. “I think this shows I ran a very strong campaign”, the Star quotes her as saying.

4) But overshadowing all this, as I noted on Saturday night, is the low turnout of 16 per cent. Unite executive member and blogger Ian Allinson bemoans the “worrying sign of the lack of engagement of members with the union”. There could be any number of reasons for this low turnout, only slightly more than the 13 per cent for the Amicus election despite more publicity. But the fact is that many Unite members don’t subscribe to their leadership’s politics, whichever brand of leader they get – as evidenced by the fact that, when asked, many vote Conservative.

I will post more views from the blog fan club when I get the chance…

*I wonder which is more pleased about McCluskey’s victory? ConHome quotes Conservative chairman Baroness Warsi saying it marks the end of a “terrible week for Ed Miliband” because Unite will, she argues, force Labour to dance to a far-left tune. Whereas last time I looked, Les Bayliss sat on the Morning Star’s management committee… Just a passing thought.

Update: It’s been pointed out that Simon Dubbins’ name does in fact feature on a later version of McCluskey’s campaign advert. Andrew Murray’s does not.

 

Unite election flash: McCluskey ahead as count begins

Saturday 20 November 2010

The count is underway in the Unite general secretary election, after thee ballot closed on Friday. I’m told that – to no-one’s surprise – frontrunner Len McCluskey is ahead on an initial count. Counting proper begins tomorrow.

Whoever wins, what no candidate will crow about is the low (16 per cent) turnout – although it’s still better than the 13 per cent who voted in last year’s Amicus election.

Exclusive: British Airways offer in full

Friday 12 November 2010

So near – and yet so far.

News that the Unite union has decided to suspend balloting its members on the offer that could hold the end to the over-a-year-old British Airways cabin crew dispute raises the issue of what exactly the offer is. Unite has decided to put off the ballot after reps at BASSA, one of the cabin crew branches, changed their collective mind and decided not to recommend accepting the offer – one of BA’s preconditions.

“Any sense that this offer is being presented to cabin crew over the heads of unwilling representatives would be deeply damaging to the union,” said Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley.

It’s been nearly a month since BA chief executive Willie Walsh put his revised offer to Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, Unite’s joint general secretaries, and Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary who has been brokering negotiations.

Well, for the first time in blogland, or anywhere public for that matter, I can release the full and unexpurgated details of the eight-page offer made on 15 October. I didn’t have the text of this offer when I wrote about it for Tribune recently, but thanks to recent help from the ever-faithful blog fan club, readers can decide for themselves what is at stake here.

Read the offer in full below, or jump to my analysis.

A revised formal offer to Unite

This position is a formal offer made by British Airways in a genuine attempt to resolve the dispute in the best interests of our customers and our cabin crew. We all agree that the airline needs to make permanent structural change to its cost base to ensure its long term survival. Both parties acknowledge that the company will only be able to afford this position if there is a stable industrial environment, without any further revenue loss or reputational damage as a result of industrial unrest.

In doing so, the airline continues to recognise the professionalism and skill of its cabin crew.

Pay

Increments

Incremental pay rises will be unaffected.

Basic Pay

The company has offered a two year pay deal, effective from 1/2/2011 as follows:

  • Year one 2011/12 the company will increase base pay based on December 2010 RPI and capped at 2.9%
  • Year two 2012/13 the company will increase base pay based on December 2011 RPI and capped at 3%

The next pay review will be effective from February 2013

The new fleet

The mixed flying fleet for new crew, with separate terms and conditions and bargaining rights will begin flying on 1 November 2010. There will be a separate negotiating body for the new fleet, which will not discuss the terms and conditions of current crew.

To continue to demonstrate our commitment to our current crew and to address any rational concerns of introducing the new fleet, we are happy to continue to ffer the following assurances.

Assurances for current crew

  • Terms and conditions for current crew – A fundamental principle of this offer is that crew will have a firm commitment from British Airways in respect to their terms of employment. Current crew are assured that their existing contractual terms will be maintained for the future, unless amended through negotiation.
  • Part-time – The company will continue to honour commitments to make part-time offers to all crew on existing lists. The offer will be on existing fleets, terms and conditions. Future opportunities will continue to be available.
  • Access to route network – It is the company’s intention to deploy new aircraft based on commercial need cross existing and new fleets. New aircraft will be introduced on a fair and transparent basis across all the company’s fleets. Existing crew terms, conditions and fleet arrangements will apply when new aircraft are operated on existing fleets. As new aircraft are introduced across all the company’s fleets, crew will be trained in order to receive the necessary licenses as required by regulation.
  • Career structure and opportunities for current crew -  The career structure for current crew within current fleets will continue on the basis of existing practice, unless amended through negotiation. The company confirm that where there are opportunities available, existing crew will be promoted on existing terms and conditions on current fleets.
  • Honouring current and future agreements – Both parties acknowledge the importance of honouring agreements and are committed to working with current arrangements.
  • Ability to transfer fleet/base on current terms and conditions – As with the current process, there is no guarantee of achieving a transfer. However, the company has committed to continue with the current practice of transfers at Heathrow between Eurofleet and Worldwide, and to find a mechanism to aid limited transfers from Gatwick under current terms and conditions.
  • Permanent variable pay top up – To provide increase assurance in relation to security of earnings, the company will introduce a permanent variable rate pay top up. For those Heathrow crew whose annual variable pay falls below the average earnings for their grade and fleet in 2009/10, the company will pay a top up lump sum every year after the launch of the new fleet. The amount to be topped up will be the difference between the variable earnings achieved by the crew member and the average amount for the grade and fleet, if there is a shortfall.
  • The average variable pay for grade and fleet will include variable pay elements listed in appendix I. Adjustments will be made for non flying time, including unpaid leave, sickness, line trainer duties and TU duties and activities.
  • The payment will be pro-rated for part-time crew.
  • The payment would not be made to those crew who participate in industrial action in the year the action took place.
  • The top-up year runs from 1st November to 31st October.
  • All current crew will have the opportunity to apply for all roles on the new fleet if they choose. This will provide promotion opportunities for many current crew. All crew joining the new fleet will have separate terms and conditions.

Opportunities for Gatwick crew

 It is accepted that restrictions within the Gatwick Fleet memorandum of agreement limit the long-haul route network. It is agreed that discussions will be held with a view to removing these restrictions to provide the best opportunities for growth in the long haul network at Gatwick, for the benefit of the business and our people.

Disruption Agreement

In order to minimise the impact of disruption to our customers and our crew, the following points will remain, or be incorporated into the Disruption Agreement

  • The definition of disruption and its scope remains unchanged, except as identified below.
  • The double night will be removed for Worldwide inbound services to anywhere in the UK and Europe, and a minimum of 15 hours off-duty will be achieved if the aircraft is unable to continue to its original destination
  • When disruption takes place the IFCE management team will immediately advise duty representatives and crew colleagues when and how the disruption agreement has been applied. A review will take place of any disruption at the next joint meeting

Working together

 The parties are committed to beginning the process of restoring and improving relationships at all levels. With this in mind, it is important that there is no victimisation arising from the dispute and both parties will work to ensure that any issues are settled in a mature and professional way. Where there are disciplinary or grievance cases, the intention is that these will be resolved quickly. Where behaviour is found to be serious, any resulting action will be measured and proportionate.

Unite and British Airways agree that if any employee who has been subject to disciplinary action (in connection with the current dispute by British Airways and whose name appears in the confidential annex to this agreement (a ‘Relevant Employee’) decides to bring an Employment Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal, then as an alternative to Employment Tribunal litigation, that claim will ordinarily be dealt with under the Acas arbitration scheme for the resolution of unfair dismissal disputes.

British Airways and Unite agree that the Arbitrator’s decision will be binding and before entering into the Acas arbitration scheme they will enter into an agreement to this effect, to which the Relevant Employee will also be a party.

Any arbitration hearing will take place only after British Airways’ internal appeals procedure has been exhausted. In any case British Airways [will reserve?] the right to approve or reject the arbitrator proposed.

(Following Para to be updated following legal input)

Where a Relevant Employee refuses to agree to the use of the Acas arbitration scheme, or initiates any legal action whatsoever connected [with a?] disciplinary case which is not within the ambit of the Acas arbitration scheme, Unite will withdraw all direct and /or indirect support and [assistance?] to that Relevant Employee, including any legal support, [?] and permanently.

An Acas review of all dispute related disciplinary cases that have been dealt with under British Airways’ disciplinary procedures will also be conducted. British Airways is committed to giving full and fair consideration to any Acas recommendation arising from that review. Nothing in this section will be taken or cited as a precedent for any past or future cases.

Future IR framework

It is acknowledged that the existing arrangements for industrial relations for cabin crew need to be reviewed and made fit for purpose, for both the company and the union in the 21st century.

Both parties are jointly committed to a comprehensive review of industrial relations between BA and Unite-representing cabin crew to be undertaken by a mutually acceptable third party supported by Acas with a view to them making recommendations that both parties will accept as binding.

The union will re-engage with the existing facilities agreement. Negotiations will take place between the company and the cabin crew union national officers, with a view to reaching a mutually agreeable framework within 8 weeks of signing this agreement. As part of this agreement, the company intends to introduce a new Cabin Crew Union facilities agreement that includes time off for trade union duties and activities. If we cannot reach agreement on a new Cabin Crew Union facilities agreement within the next 8 weeks, then the company will serve notice on all of the existing facilities agreements, but will continue to comply with its statutory obligations..

The company proposes the introduction of a broader business consultative approach across British Airways, to engage our representatives and our managers in a wider debate about our business performance and needs of our customers. An example of items for discussion at the forum is the allocation of routes. Prior to the start of each season the company will discuss the allocation of routes with Unite.

Both parties are firmly committed to the effective application of company procedures, which are currently the subject of negotiations in the Employment Policy Committee and BA Forum.

Policy

Changes to corporate policies that apply to colleagues across the company and covered at the BA Forum and EPC have been subject to discussion [with?] the intention to conclude these discussion within eight weeks of [completing?] this offer.

Summary

This revised formal offer maintains the contractual rights of cabin crew at their current level. The offer does not reduce or extend them from where they are today.

Both parties recognise the assistance the TUC has given in securing this agreement. The application of this agreement will be reviewed annually with the TUC, at twelve, twenty-four and thirty-six months from the date the agreement is signed.

If either party believes that this agreement is not being honoured a meeting at Director/General Secretary level (or their nominated replacements) can be convened.

Appendix I – Variable pay top up

The objective of the crew top up scheme is to provide greater security of variable earnings for current crew in Heathrow Worldwide and Heathrow Eurofleet. It is designed to mitigate the concerns over the pace and mix of work transfer to the new ‘Mixed Fleet’. All existing variable pay will continue to be paid as now e.g. all box payments, all back to backs, destination payments, excess time premiums, short turnaround payments etc.

The crew variable top up scheme means that everyone at Heathrow will be paid at least the average amount of variable pay that was earned by their grade and fleet during the 2009-10 schedule, regardless of their roster. If crew were to earn less than this, the difference will be topped up to the amounts shown below on an annual basis.

The minimum amount of variable pay shown below would be increased in line with any base pay uplift that is applied.

The minimum variable pay full time crew would receive per annum (effective from 1st November 2010)

FLEET GRADE ANNUAL EQUIVALENT (£)
Worldwide CSD* 7,917
Worldwide Purser 7,575
Worldwide Main crew 6,616
Eurofleet  CSD 1,894
Eurofleet Purser 1,894
Eurofleet Main crew 1,737

[* = cabin services director, the senior cabin crew member] 

Part time crew will receive a pro rata amount of the above sums.

Allowances included within the minimum variable pay

Worldwide Eurofleet
Long Range Premium (LRP)/Box Payment Long Day Payments (LDP)
Back to Back(B2B) Excess Time Premium (ETP)
Destination Payment (DES) Base Early Report Payment (BER)
Excess Time Premium (ETP) Block Payment (BLK)
Long Range Diversion Payment (DIV) Short Turnaround Payment (CAT)

The following categories of allowance will also continue to be paid in the same way as they are today but do not form part of the crew top up scheme

Meal Allowances

Nightly Incidental Allowance (NIA)

Line Trainer Payments

Rest Day Working

Exception Payments from WW Disruption Agreement (One Down and Zone Closure)

Daily Overseas Allowance (DOA)

Time Away Allowance (TAA)

Willing to Work

Deductions from the minimum variable pay

As now variable pay flying allowances will not be paid when you carry out non flying duties. A daily amount (1/365 of the full time amount shown) will be deducted from the annual minimum variable pay for each non flying day from the following list.

Sickness

Trade Union Activities and duties

Line Trainer duties (*)

Unpaid Leave

Grounded Maternity(**)

(*) Current Line Trainer payments will continue to apply

(**) Current Grounded maternity Allowance payments will continue to be made

Signatories to the offer

Tony Woodley Joint General Secretary, Unite

Derek Simpson Joint General Secretary, Unite

Tony McCarthy Director P&OE, British Airways

Date: 15 October 2010

Analysis

The devil is in the detail – and some of the detail isn’t in this agreement. In a separate letter to Brendan Barber on 15 October, Willie Walsh wrote that he was restoring travel concessions to staff “with a reset joining date of 21 October 2010 for those who took industrial action during March-June of this year.”

This is crucial. When Walsh stripped striking crew of their travel concessions, Unite cried foul. Cabin crew have previously said that these concessionary rates, sometimes labelled ‘perks’, are absolutely essential for doing their job, as they often need to fly – sometimes internationally – from their current resting place to the airport to join the plane. Without them, they say, they can’t afford to work.

Walsh is prepared to restore concessions to staff who’ve been on strike, but not “seniority” – the system by which cabin crew move up the queue for concessions based on length of service. So a crew member with 20 years’ service would go back to zero seniority. And before the concessions are restored, there must be a period without industrial action.

Walsh also says (though again, this isn’t in the agreement text) that “a key element of the agreement is the need for both parties to conduct industrial relations differently from today.” He explains: “Communications issued by Unite and its branches must be more balanced and measured than they have been. The company will continue to ensure that its communications are balanced and objective”. In other words, he says it’s Unite that has been presenting an inappropriate view of the dispute, not BA. One imagines Walsh has Unite’s “Brutish Airways” campaign website in mind – perhaps they’ll be obliged to take it down to comply with the agreement? Walsh is clearly seeking to place some blame with Unite.

Bassa officials are reported to be unhappy at the implications of cabin crew “initiating any legal action” relating to disciplinary cases connected to the dispute. A number of cabin crew have lost pay during the dispute, but insist they were genuinely off sick. The agreement would strip them of union support if they took legal action through an employment tribunal, and require them to go down the Acas route instead. Current legal action must also be dropped. Some obviously take the view that’s not good enough.

Heathrow-based cabin crew will also be denied the “permanent variable pay top up”, which is worth up to nearly £8,000, if they were on strike this year.

BA is generally working towards removing union restrictions on how it does business – for example, by demanding a review of the routes it can fly out of Gatwick (which was less affected by the strikes than Heathrow). Use of BA facilities by union officials will also be re-examined, with the threat of BA withdrawing all support if no agreement is reached within eight weeks. However, the airline does recognise that union lay officials working for BA need time off for union activities. Duncan Holley, Bassa’s branch secretary, says he was sacked by BA for seeking to use his time off in this way.

This offer has clearly proved divisive among cabin crew and Unite reps. Some, it has emerged, think it no better than the last offer and see it as a punishment for those who took lawful industrial action. Others however may be ready to sign it. What the membership as a whole thinks remains to be seen.

The London fire strike nobody’s talking about

Friday 5 November 2010

So the FBU have called off their Bonfire Night strike. But their dispute rumbles on, unresolved albeit with an improved offer from the London Fire Brigade. There could yet be another strike. And that could set the scene for major co-ordinated action.

As I report in Tribune today, another strike is looming at the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the civil authority that directs the LFB’s policy. Unison and the GMB – who together represent 80 per cent of the authority’s 1,000 or so control centre and other support staff – are planning strike ballots:

Charles Adje, GMB branch secretary for LFEPA, said: “We will be co-ordinating the ballot [with Unison]. If the FBU wants to work with us, we are happy to work with them.” Unison branch secretary Tony Philips said: “If the FBU are in dispute, we’ll definitely have action with them.” Both unions have voted to strike in consultative ballots in the last two months.

LFEPA has decided to pay redundant staff a week’s pay per year served, instead of mutiplying the total sum by three as previously. The unions believe redundancy terms cannot be changed without new contracts. A spokesman for LFEPA said they had not been notified of any strike ballot and declined to comment on redundancy pay.

Even if the FBU doesn’t strike again, this would seem to be the biggest co-ordinated strike in the country since the coalition took power. In fact London is a veritable hotbed of public sector union agitation at the moment. Outside LFEPA, there isn’t a lot of actual, deliberate co-ordination going on, but watch this space.

Full story here.


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