On 15 November the Independent Pilots Association launched a campaign to attract British Airline Pilots Association members. The IPA was capitalising on discontent among BALPA members about the latter’s handling of two disputes over the last three years.
The first was BALPA’s dispute with British Airways over terms and conditions at its Open Skies subsidiary, which resulted in an expensive and comprehensive defeat for the union. BALPA’s excuse is that it received poor legal advice. But Flightglobal has copies of the legal advice, and it reads like a firm statement from the union’s lawyers that there were no grounds in law for the demands BALPA was making of BA, so the decision to proceed looks reckless.
More recently a dispute over conditions at Virgin Atlantic, about which members felt so strongly that they were prepared to strike, fizzled out when BALPA surprised the members by advising them to accept a company offer with which they were unhappy. Secretary general Jim McAuslan said the deal was “in the long term interests of the members,” but Virgin pilots have told Flightglobal that they think the union secretariat are “so busy looking after themselves” that they don’t listen to the membership. McAuslan admits there is a review ongoing about how the Virgin dispute was handled.
Meanwhile the final settlement with BA is imminent. It is likely to cost the union about £1 million.
McAuslan told Flightglobal that BALPA’s job was not only to listen, but to lead, remarking that trying to win consensus was “like herding cats”. He says that, following a recent survey of members’ views about the union, which was broadly – but not by big margins – favourable, BALPA will be acting more as a unified organisation rather than as a federation of pilot councils at individual airlines.
BALPA has a long history and a strong brand name, but its leadership hasn’t been effective for some time. Maybe the current IPA bid to take over the representation of Britain’s pilots is a timely warning to McAuslan and his team.