An anonymous op-ed in The Guardian by a British Airways pilot explains why pilots are striking. Personally, I don’t think the pilot advances his cause.
In short, the unidentified British Airways pilots says it is an issue of respect and fear.
One of my colleagues has summed it up as a question of respect. I would also add an element of fear.
In the past 10 or 20 years, pilot workloads have significantly increased – as is the case across much of the economy – and at the same time our pay and pensions have been significantly reduced. As the industry has reinvented its former state-run companies into private enterprises we’ve faced below-market pay rises and a hollowing out of pension provision. During all of this process we’ve been told the increased productivity was necessary to ensure our future and create sufficient profit to be able to reinvest. We accepted these sacrifices with the promise that, when they bore fruit, and profit was available, we would then share in that success.
I sense there is broad sympathy for this line of argumentation. While tone-deaf British Airways CEO Alex Cruz gave himself a £530,000 pay raise in 2017 (a 61% bump), he is now saying that British Airways cannot afford to give pilots more than 11.5% over three years. But general sympathy does not necessarily translate into acute sympathy once the specifics are examined.
The pilot continues:
The investment in new aircraft, seats and service levels have all had much publicity. The share buybacks and shareholder dividends, not so much – but they have been substantial, as have the eye-watering increases in senior management remuneration.
So the reason for the dispute is that we feel the potentially below-inflation pay offer, as the company makes record profits, does not respect our previous loyalty and “investment” in BA’s success.
The pilot also shares fears that British Airways is moving in a direction of “contractors” over hiring new pilots, a way to avoid sick pay, paid holidays, and job protection.
As the public has also endured cutbacks to onboard service levels, I’m not sure if questioning investment in new seats or service levels is the way to sway public opinion…
An Issue of Fairness, Not Fear Or Respect
But that’s not my main concern wtih this op-ed. Let’s turn back to the opening paragraph of the op-ed:
Why are pilots earning six-figure salaries going on strike? On the face of it, I do a highly respected and sought-after job and I am paid handsomely for it. Yet this week I am going to strike, and I feel hugely conflicted. My heart feels that I do not want to inflict a strike on British Airways, to which I have given the lion’s share of my working life; or on my passengers, for whom I make safety and commercial decisions every working day.
Why start with this? 93% of British Airways pilots voted in favor of the strike. Why start on the defensive? Why start by saying that your heart does not want to strike when your heart very clearly tells you the opposite: that BA is underpaying you?
Since the pilot admits to already being “paid handsomely” already and feeling “conflicted” about the strike, his (or her) argument is immediately undermined. I question whether the average British family has all that much sympathy for a pilot paid handsomely and offered lucrative benefits. But everyone can sympathize over broken promises.
This strike is about money. Why not just be clear about it? Pilots feel that profit should be returned to them. It is that simple. The issue is not that they need more money now, but that they feel entitled to a greater share of the pie on the basis of past sacrifice and promise from management.
This isn’t an issue fear, as the strike has crippled British Airways. This isn’t an issue of respect, which implies British Airways legally owes them nothing. Rather, this is an issue of perceived fairness and broken promises. And it’s not an unreasonable argument. That’s the argument pilots should stick to.
image: British Airways