A number of leading employment relations experts have written to a leading British newspaper accusing British Airways chairman Willie Walsh of attempting to “break” Unite.
The 95 academics – with professed expertise in the analysis of the causes, processes and outcomes of industrial disputes - signed an open letter to the Guardian newspaper today, suggesting Walsh’s actions could only be explained by a “desire to break the union which represents the cabin crew”.
“What other possible interpretation can there be for Willie Walsh rejecting Unite’s acceptance of BA’s previous offer or indeed of his marshalling of resources, including those of bitter industry rival Ryanair, to undermine the action of his staff?” read the letter.
“Mr Walsh and now prime minister Brown have made the error of underestimating the deep seated and justifiable anger of a loyal and dedicated workforce, whose continued trust and goodwill is a vital ingredient of customer care.”
The British Airways chief was supported by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary earlier this week.
“We believe the Unite union are a bunch of dimwits,” Mr O’Leary said. “It’s insane the cabin crew are striking at a time of recession. The timing is spectacularly stupid.”
Describing Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint-general secretary, as a “dinosaur”, Mr O’Leary said he hoped that the crew “realise they are lions being led by donkeys and overpaid donkeys at that.”
Ryanair has chartered fully-staff jets to British Airways, in an effort to assist the British flag-carrier in meeting its obligations during a period of strike action.
Cabin crew at the airline walked out for three days from March 20th, with a further four day stoppage planned from March 27th.
British Airways has been marshalling resources in an effort to break the strike; recruiting cabin crew from within its own ranks and chartering jets from rival airlines.
At present the carrier hopes to fly 65 per cent of its planned schedule during the second strike. The latest information from British Airways can be seen here.
However, despite British Airway’s continued offer of negotiations with Unite, efforts are proving unpalatable in some areas.
“Overwhelming majorities in two strike ballots in the face of tabloid opprobrium testify to employees’ understanding that a victory for Walsh’s macho management strategy would precipitate a race to the bottom in terms of working conditions and job quality,” continued the Guardian letter.
“In the process, this would damage beyond repair the high standards of customer service for which BA cabin crew are renowned.
“The wider significance of a triumph of unilateral management prerogative would be a widening of the representation gap in UK employment relations, and a further erosion of worker rights and of that most precious of commodities – democracy.”
In a statement, BA set outlined a number of specific rebuttals to the charges.
The airline questioned why, if strike-breaking was the aim, had it involved the TUC and the conciliation service Acas in an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with the union.
It also pointed out Mr Walsh himself had spent three days at the TUC talking with union representatives.
In recent days Unite has encourage British Airways to re-offer a proposal made in the final days before industrial action began. BA has, however, refused, stating the offer was conditional on no industrial action being taken.