British Airways boss Alex Cruz penned a rather remarkable piece in response to criticism in the U.K. over plans to renege on labor deals, firing everyone and rehiring a portion of staff at lower pay. He declares that the business is facing challenges, and that they will do the bare minimum legally required of them (“we will not step back from our legal obligations”).
He complains about the new U.K. 14-day quarantine rule being unfair (it’s rather bizarre to ‘shut the barn door’ at this point). The overall message is that the world is conspiring against them, they’re doing the best they can, so you really shouldn’t expect more of them because it’s not their fault.
Two things Cruz says ring true:
- “[O]verseas competitors will be waiting in the wings to take the landing slots at Heathrow that our MPs have suggested BA does not deserve.” and so will domestic competitors (Virgin Atlantic) and what that means is that the U.K. isn’t going to lose access to air travel if British Airways fails, there’s no public purpose in protecting or subsidizing them. And since 98.2% of BA flying is international, as Cruz is quick to point out, losing BA doesn’t even lose domestic flying.
- “British Airways has no absolute right to exist.”
British Airways is going to be a smaller airline for the next 2-3 years, and that means needing fewer staff. There are honorable ways to accomplish this and dishonorable ones. And BA has chosen a despicable path.
Depending on the work group Cruz intends or threatens to fire everyone, and rehire a portion at reduced pay (in some cases over 50% less). And it isn’t just about lower head count and less pay, but also imposing new work rules on these ostensibly ‘new’ hires. Cruz is using the opportunity of the coronavirus crisis to accomplish everything the airline has wanted but could not get bargaining with its unions, at a time when most flights remain grounded so strikes are useless.
In his piece he suggests he’s required to notify unions of layoffs, he can’t rescind those notices, so cabin crew representatives are being unreasonable in refusing to meet over concessions when the airline is formally declaring their intention to let go of staff. He’s right that if he’s going to do this he needs to say so, but the union is also on firm ground saying they won’t use that as the starting point for negotiation.
What’s most striking is that Alex Cruz does not lay out any vision for the airline nor does he offer any real defense of why the airline is worth saving. Of course a patriotic British cry would be tough for the Spaniard whose airline is owned by a conglomerate registered in Madrid, and where over 40% of ownership is based outside of Europe let alone the U.K.