And the winner at British Airways is….Willie Walsh

Make no mistake, Willie Walsh is the big winner in the settlement of the British Airways cabin-crew strike, despite some very odd things being written in British quality newspapers.

Not only is the cost of the settlement to BA a minor one, but the BASSA arm of the T&G union representing the cabin crew has been publicly humiliated and is in internal disarray, and Willie himself did not put a foot wrong in the whole affair.

The game was up from the moment on BBC primetime radio news that T&G deputy general secretay Jack Dromey failed to respond to Walsh’s declaration that average sickness absence among cabin crew was 22 days a year. Not news to anyone in the industry, but big news to the rest of the world.

Dromey repeatedly refused to address the point. Shortly after, his boss Tony Woodley took over the negotiations and he and Walsh quietly thrashed out the new deal over a period of days. I guess labour deals aren’t negotiated in the proverbial ‘smoke-filled rooms’ anymore, but it was that sort of old-fashioned session that cracked it.

Upshot:: no protracted strike, sickness absence problem consigned to history, minor concessions on both sides, stock price rock-steady.

Nobody should be surprised. The characterisation of ‘slasher’ Walsh as the scourge of unions is simply stupid. It comes from his Aer Lingus days and ignores the context of what was happening at that company – which was nothing less than its complete reinvention from a stone-age, state-owned, flag-carrier into a reasonably modern business with a fighting chance of long-term survival. Employment reduction was just one piece of the jigsaw.

And I have to respect former pilot Walsh, he passed the Aer Lingus aircrew selection test in the same era that I failed it! Another story…


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