BA pays the price for its air of indifferenceOn 5 Aug 2003 in Personnel Today The unofficial walkout of British Airways (BA) ground service staff atHeathrow with all its attendant damage was a salutary warning to the airlineindustry and everybody beyond. For years, surveys of employee satisfaction have been pointing to a steadygrowth of disaffection, reflected in the election of a generation of avowedlymore aggressive trade union leaders. But what has propelled this shift is notso much a new militancy, as a demand for respect – a widespread feelingexpressing itself through industrial relations. That presents a major challenge to the HR community, but it is also anopportunity. The BA dispute bubbled up from below. None of the unions negotiating aboutthe introduction of swipe cards for months beforehand guessed that theirmembers were this ready to act. It was certainly a surprise to BA. Had BAmanagement the slightest hint that the enforced introduction of swipe cardswould lead to £40m of lost revenues and tens of millions more in lostreputation, it would not have acted in such a self-defeating manner. After all,20,000 other workers within BA had already accepted the new system. The trigger for this unexpected storm was not so much the monitoring ofattendance; it was apprehension that the new technology would permit awholesale recasting of the workplace bargain – on BA’s terms and time-schedule– and that workers would have no say in the matter. And on top of poor pay, ifwork was to be distributed around the rhythm of customer demand, then workerswould have been reduced to little more than automata. This is where the question of respect kicks in. Of course there was fearabout change and further intensification of the pace of work without additionalcompensation. But what made the reaction so highly charged was the sense thatthe whole approach showed how BA regarded the workforce. Any durable solution to these types of disputes must involve systems andprocesses the workforce trusts – that gives them a voice in how the workplacebargain is to be reshaped. Thus the traditionalist collective bargaining dealcannot always offer a sustainable position. It needs processes involving thetransmission of information and consultation in a way that encourages genuineemployee input to how working practices are shaped. BA needs a more European, social partnership approach to organising workthan either our unions or management are ready to accept. Tony Woodley,designated successor to Sir Bill Morris at the Transport & General WorkersUnion, said unions musn’t get too close “to the gaffer” – and Britishmanagements do cherish their autonomy and discretion. The implementation of the EU directive on information and consultation ispainfully slow, and there is a respect deficit out there. Now is the time forHR to make the case for pre-emptive action to mitigate the risk of being in thesame position as BA was. By Will Hutton, chief executive, The Work Foundation Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.