I have put off
this moment for as long as I could, but now we have to face the facts
and have a file open on British Airways.
staff's union called a vote for a strike and, however ill judged their
actions, a majority voted for it.
management challenged the validity of the vote based on a technicality
in the rules on reporting the results to its members.
The court has
ruled in favour of the Airline. A difficult decision in one way, in
that the minor technical breach would not have affected the result.
However, it has to be understood that the Union's argument for calling
the strike is based on technicalities. If the cabin staff were to base
their vote on rationality and good sense, they would certainly not
strike at this time or, indeed, any other time when their airline is
struggling, along with others, to survive. Nor would they base it on
claim that the terms offered by their employer are unreasonable. No, it
is based on a technicalities all the way, on the linkages of
expectations embedded in ambiguous texts to financial conditions that
no longer pertain.
I am reminded of
the claim of certain bankers that despite bringing their enterprise to
the brink of destruction, the agreement that they should be rewarded
with a pension that exceeds the wealth of past princes still stands.
All contracts made in the belief that the sky will not fall should be
capable of some modification if it does. When the cause of the sky
falling is not unconnected with the complacency of the contractor or
contractee, all the more reason.
Many people may
not understand why rational people would follow the lead of the union
leader who has brought their airline to this state. I have to tell you
they do not see it as 'their airline' or even 'their country'. They
believe the man they are following has their interests at heart. They
are not 'on the same page' as the rest of the population any more than
those who listen to any demagogue who they believe has the answer to
their personal problems, and will change the world (rather than them)
to fix these problems.
As for the man
the are following, he does what he does because he can. He has
considerable self-belief. Now he will take the argument to a higher
level, to see if he can appeal the judgment immediately. This gives our
top judges a bit of a headache. Should the law remain blind on the
ground that the voters are effectively drugged and one absurdity is
balanced by another in those famous scales of justice? Or should they
say that the spirit of the law should override the technicalities in
order not to frustrate the lemmings from running over the cliff? [I
know, lemmings don't do this, people do].
The answer must
be that another vote is called for, with the technicalities agreed in
public in advance?
The appeal by the Union was allowed and the appeal court has decided
that the ballot was legal, on the grounds that the reporting failure
was very limited, in no way hiding the full result.
I have to admit that gets round quite a hairy problem in a logical way.
The union must now decide whether to call their members out on strike
and their members must each decide whether or not to follow this advice.
As I mentioned before, the management offer on the table is very fair,
and claim that it is not is based on linkages now as irrelevant
as the technicalities that triggered the appeal on the ballot reporting.
Could there be a resolution? Yes, if the management reinstate the
travel allowances removed from those who went on strike last time; but
they are unlikely to do that, because they hold to the theory that it
is for management to manage, and those who went on strike the first
time do not agree with that theory. There is no right or wrong here, it
is just the usual method of a modus vivendi being arrived at through
evolutionary procedures. There is, as Simpson says, a breakdown in
management/union relations. The country should not have to suffer
because of that.
Incidentally, both court decisions, the first and the second, were
right. Well done chaps.
British Airways cabin crew have begun a five-day strike, in a
resumption of industrial action in their long-running dispute over jobs
We remain in the situation of total mistrust between Simpson and Walsh,
both seeing the other as a representative of forces dedicated their
long term destruction. The airline is not the union's only adversary of
course, it is a big union, but the airline is the only business Mr
Walsh has to manage, and he and his shareholders see it as their
responsibility to decide what they pay their staff and on what terms.
It is hard to see how they can think otherwise. A business cannot have
So Walsh will hold firm. I
do not see him bent on the
destruction of trade unions so much as bent on running an airline with
a staff who appreciate the problems of management and expect him to get
on with it.
JUNE 11th 2010
Mr Walsh has 'decided to forego' his bonus of £334,000. I imagine
what really annoys many of his employees is that it appears to be his
choice to decline the payment, when no company in its right mind could
possibly give a bonus to the manager of business that has so
spectacularly failed in its industrial relations, profit and loss
account and recently, customer satisfaction levels. However, if we
consider how it would play if this morning we were to read "BA Board
decides CEO's bonus inappropriate in the circumstances", it is clear
this would be interpreted as a confidence issue, thereby adversely
affecting his authority in negotiations with the union. This is the
same problem that bedevils the handling of remuneration to all senior
executives in, particularly, all companies within the anglo-saxon
cultural sphere and those who in other areas compete in the same
commercial-linguistic pool. Biologists who study the animal world must
understand it quite well. Economists must find it depressing and
demeaning but acceptable when they are also the beneficiaries.
Every dog has his day, and now it is the performers who in times past
performed for the honour of it, at the service of the public and the
privileged few, who can call the shots. The honour is gone, but the
performers realise they have power in an age where in sport and
entertainment mass-media can bring celebrity that has market value
beyond their wildest dreams, while in business and public service the
same applies to
those who learn the secrets of climbing the management ladder. Surely
this is right. Is it not meritocracy? Doesn't the best man or woman
win, and isn't that for the best of us all? Is it not better that
Andrew Lloyd Webber is rich, and should we not regret that Mozart died
a pauper? Fortunately there are no glib answers to these questions. If
there were, existence really would be a cruel joke instead of a
wondrous happening in which every one of us should deem it a privilege
to have played even the smallest imaginable part and made nothing but
mistakes for others to learn from.
[Cool it for goodness' sake,
this is a file on British Airways, not bloody sermon - Ed]