Back in 2006 I gave a speech to the Scottish CBI when I was Director-General. In it, I encouraged the Trade Unions to get on the page of the 21st Century. A world where skilled people meant employed people and where flexible working patterns and putting the customer first meant sustainable employment.
What I didn’t say (although, bless them, the media widely quoted me next day, and still sometimes do, as having said) was that Trade Unions were irrelevant. However I did say (and meant it) that if Trade Unions didn’t change then “they would wither on the vine of irrelevance”.
As I look at the depressingly ongoing BA cabin crew strike action and Tony Woodley’s warning this morning that further ballots for more action will be called, I am reminded of my words some four years ago. Not the BA cabin crew themselves. They are (and I use many airlines often) the best in the World. Highly professional, incredibly well trained and customer focus on the job is second to none. No, it is the Union itself that needs a long, hard look in the mirror and must concern itself about the implications of my warning.
This Nation is facing a period of job cuts, of few pay rises, of employees being asked to do more for less. This all sounds familiar in the private sector over the past couple of years but now the public sector will be asked to shoulder some of the burden as well. BA cabin crew already have better working terms and conditions than every other competitor airline and if things don’t change then there will be no BA. Sustainable employment? Forget it!
The Trade Union negotiating team secretly realise that, and a worse-than-average hand played badly has finally led them to a position where they are currently causing economic loss to one of the UK’s last remaining emblematic companies and to their own members, severe disruption to the business and leisure plans of thousands, distraction for management from running a business in one of the most cut-throat sectors on Earth, damage to the reputation of the Country as we all battle to attract inward investment (and therefore jobs and taxable profits; this ain’t rocket science!) and increasing damage to their own ability to lead amongst their own membership, all over… a plea to reinstate free flights to work for those who not only caused this mayhem in the first place but were specifically warned of this consequence of their planned action before they took it.
Reinstatement of the free ability to fly to work from sunnier climes would not only be disloyal to those thousands who didn’t strike and had already woken up and smelt the coffee, but millions of people struggling to work at their own expense this morning would be wondering exactly on what planet Mr Woodley, the twittering Mr Simpson and their Union-politically motivated lieutenants at Heathrow lived.
“If the Unions don’t change, they will wither on the vine of irrelevance” echoes down from Glasgow over four years ago to a situation where a Trade Union is now left begging to be thrown the scraps of a free “get-to-work” travel concession and continues to cause misery for people whose understanding they lost a long time ago, in the hope of getting it and no more. The marvelous cabin crew at BA deserve better representation than this and the Nation, in one of its dark hours, deserve better union leadership than this.