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Compromise
Balgove
tobyaw
Watching the BBC News coverage of the BA/Unite legal action, it struck me that the BBC’s correspondents seemed to be espousing compromise as the only sensible path for BA and Unite to follow, and they emphasised that ACAS was ready to provide arbitration facilities. Maybe this is an editorial line that fits easily into the BBC’s centrist ethos, but it strikes me that it is hard to justify.

BA is a loss-making airline with a pension deficit that is nearly double its market capitalisation. It pretty obviously needs to make some tough decisions in order to resolve its financial problems, just as our LibCon government is going to need to do with the nation’s finances.

But if any changes an organisation tries to make are met with hostility, and end up being curtailed through a process of compromise, then presumably the implication is that the organisation should adopt a more extreme position initially, so they get the result they want after the compromise. This might be second-nature for those who spend their lives negotiating, but I want to believe that a business can and should be run in a way that involves practical business-led decision making, with an honest presentation of its position. Maybe it isn’t possible in a heavily unionised business; how can a company have a relationship with its employees if there is a third-party organisation in the middle?

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The union isn't a third party organisation. It is the employees. The employees voted over 80% for the strike action. People do not go on strike lightly. They don't get paid while they are on strike. Is Willie Walsh taking a pay cut while he is attempting to impose them on others?

Not all the employees of BA are members of a union. The Unite negotiators and public figures aren’t employees of BA. So it looks like a third-party to me.

I don’t think it matters whether Willie Walsh is taking a pay cut (although he did work a month last year without oay) — he is trying to save a dying business, and it looks like Unite is trying to kill it.

In a competitive marketplace for jobs, I think striking should lead to sacking. There are plenty of other airlines employing cabin crew. If BA’s staff don’t want to work, someone else will.

In a competitive marketplace for jobs, I think striking should lead to sacking.

That would leave all the power in the employer's hands. I take your point about difficult decisions, and I like to believe the best of people - but it's a sad fact that if the workers don't have any leverage, some employers will take advantage. I have no idea whether this applies in BA's case. I'm not particularly impressed with either side - the union didn't dot its Is and cross it's Ts, and the company is using legal technicalities to thwart a pretty clear democratic decision.

But it’s not about power, leverage, or taking advantage. It’s about trying to reform archaic working practices that appear to be unique within the industry, with the union fighting every step of the way.

BA posted record losses today — it has had two massively loss-making years. Without their workforce helping them to reduce costs and work towards profitability, they may as well give up

But it’s not about power, leverage, or taking advantage.

It appears it is. Agreement on the substantive working practices has been reached in principle, but BA is intent on permanently withdrawing perks specifically from staff who struck - punishing them for exercising their right to withdraw their labour.

If the company were talking about withdrawing perks generally, that might be a reasonable change to working practices based on cost concerns. Withdrawing them from selected workers who've actively disagreed with management decisions (and already "paid" for it by losing their pay on strike days) is bullying.

Bullying is rather a strong word to use for the removal of discretionary benefits (particularly as picket lines are notorious for real bullying - verbal and physical abuse). Why shouldn't BA draw a distinction between employees who fought it and employees who supported it during a difficult time?

With the strikes causing great customer hassle and uncertainty, and probably causing a long-term drop in the business-class travel that BA depends on, I would have thought that it would be sensible to use perks to reward employees who work for the benefit of the company. Why should the people who damage the business receive a perk?

The strikers may have 'paid' by losing their pay on strike days, but the cost to the company is much larger than that.

Isn't it the management who have damaged the business by failing to keep the majority of their employees on side? Management are typically rewarded far beyond the level of normal employees on the argument that they are especially responsible for making the large profits the company wishes to see. If that's really justified - rather than a racket - then the flip side of that is that they are still especially responsible when there are problems.

Also worth pointing out that some people claim they're striking for the good of the company because cutbacks are affecting precisely the business class travel you mention; with business class passengers paying £3000 for a flight and only getting their third choice of meal, for example.

There's a relative aspect to costs as well as an absolute one; lost pay may be much smaller than lost business in absolute terms, but it could still be a big loss for the employee concerned.

Management are employees too. One could argue that they are the normal employees, in that they are working for the benefit of the business, and strikers are abnormal in that they are damaging the business yet get to keep their jobs (if not their perks).

Striking for the good of the company seems a spurious defence for the blatant short-termism and self-interest exhibited by the strikers. One assumes that BA has departments full of highly-paid (and hopefully highly competent) accountants and business analysts working out exactly how to save money, manage their debt burden, and maintain good customer relations.

The cabin crew may be at the 'coal face' of customer relations, but there is no way they can see the the whole picture.

Your definition of normal doesn't seem to agree with any in the dictionary!

(Correct me if I'm wrong but) I suspect you don't think striking can ever be justified, in which case we are never going to agree. I think it's an acceptable last resort, to be avoided by negotiation if at all possible; but if employers aren't prepared to negotiate it is legitimate.

As regards viewing the whole picture, I think perhaps companies could learn something from the armed forces, where there has to be a relationship of trust between the rank and file and their commanders. The common soldier may be expected to die for a bigger picture he can't see - a bit more extreme than the expectations of the average job role - but if the common soldiers are driven to the point of mutiny, they may well face punishment but the commanding officer is also regarded as having failed.

You mentioned below that few companies are run for the benefit of their employees. That's probably the heart of the problem. People will be more accepting of tough decisions if they feel they belong than when they feel they're being bought to work for the benefit of "corporate psychopaths". I'm not saying BA's management fall into that category - how would I know? - just that some of their employees may feel they do.

Normal employment: I have a contract with my employer, and they pay me in return for work. Abnormal employment: I have a contract with my employer, but I choose to badmouth them in public, do things that hurt their business, and withhold my work, but I still expect to work for them without losing any perks or benefits. And what about self-respect?

I'm not sure whether you're right or wrong about my views on strikes! I suspect I would be more sympathetic if the working conditions were below industry standard and if the company were profitable. But in this case the business is broken, the employment costs are way above industry standard, and the reasons for striking sound astonishingly trivial.

Interesting that you raise the point about negotiating, since my original post was about the evils of compromise. If the back-room boys run the numbers and work out what savings need to be made, do we want the company to honestly implement a policy of cuts? Or do we want them to adopt an extreme position, so that after negotiation and compromise (and stikes and brinkmanship) they achieve the result that they need?

You call it negotiation, I call it haggling. And I think it is a pretty rotten way to run a business.

BA is a very heavily unionised company so the 80%+ who voted for strike action probably represents a clear majority of the staff. BA has professional negotiators. Why shouldn't the staff. Seems only fair. I doubt very much Unite are trying to kill BA. That would lead to their members loosing their jobs. BA's staff do want to work.They don't want to take a pay cut and have their conditions erroded. The company won't automatically reinstate pay cuts, etc, if business turns up.

But BA isn’t run by and for the benefit of its employees — very few companies are (John Lewis being a notable exception, I suppose). Unite don’t appear to have either the short- or long-term future of the business in mind; all they seem to care about is preserving existing working conditions and perks for a subset of the BA workforce.

With roughly 90% of cabin crew being union members, 79% of ballots were returned, with 81% in favour of a strike. Which means that roughly 58% of cabin crew voted in favour of striking.

I imagine the working environment will be pretty unpleasant, before, during, and after the strike, with people on opposing sides of the picket line having to work together in an enclosed space.

ON the flip side, with 90% of the cabin crew being union members, 79% of ballots returned (which is a _really_ good turnout, incidentally), and 19% against, only 13.5% of the Cabin crew expressed an active opposition to striking.

That's still an overwealming mandate to strike. I think you have to wonder (given other Airlines aren't having the same problems) whether BA has set out to deliberately antagonise their union, or whether they've done it through gross incompetence. I certainly think this sort of dispute isn't in anyones interest- you just have to wonder how it can have reached this sort of level. Hard line attitudes on both sides, one assumes.

Or perhaps other airlines don't have this problem because they don't have the history - stretching back to the days of state-ownership - of compromising with the unions, and hence developing the high-cost working practices and salaries that are out of kilter with the rest of the industry.

I can't imagine that BA's goal could have been to deliberately antagonise Unite; rather, I suspect they came to a realisation that the only way they can recover the business is to break free from the status quo. When you're losing hundreds of millions of pounds a year, compromise is no longer an option.

You don't think it was in the nature of 'We must break the Unions power'? I can see that being one of the objectives of someone trying one way of reducing costs. I don't think it's been handled well, and personally I think you can get more by negotiating than by the sort of heavy handed stuff that's been pulled so far (the injunctions, in particular, had a distinct smell of 'gamesmanship' rather than justice about 'em- which was the essence of the Judges remarks last week, iirc).

Yep, absolutely. I think there is a strong correlation between breaking union power and stopping a business from failing.

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