Caught out by chaos but BA can recover

a sobering thought that the future of one of Britain’s greatest company’s was
held in the balance by a dispute that caught both its management and the unions
by surprise.

fact so many British Airways (BA) employees could be motivated to take part in
wildcat strikes at the busiest time of the year, after five tough years for the
business, is an indication of a pretty serious breakdown in communications.
Agreement may have been reached, but the dispute cost BA up to £40m and there
are now the inevitable questions over the capability of BA executives, and the
fragility of its business processes and staff morale.

right that BA should look to move all its operations away from paper–based to
electronic systems. Ironically, 20,000 employees have already adopted the swipe
card without a hitch.

highly effective industry chiefs know when groups of their employees are truly

airline insists it’s been talking to unions about automated time recording for
the past 12 months, but it did not predict the anger at Heathrow. As its HR
director explains, it has conducted extensive communications in a bid to listen
and respect staff while tackling the “unimaginable challenges” thrown at it.
But somehow, by looking at the bigger picture, someone failed to measure the
strength of feelings at a grassroots level.  

employees who spoke to Personnel Today’s deputy editor Penny Wilson (see page
3) were highly critical of BA management from the top down to line managers.
And Work Foundation chief executive Will Hutton believes there was a failure to
get genuine employee involvement  in
shaping new working practices (see page 13).

challenges now lie ahead including recovery of the brand reputation, which BA
admits cannot be achieved without employee support. The rate of growth in the
aviation industry ( 215 million flights in Europe by the end of this year) will
ensure that people management remains a hot issue.

is a high-cost operator competing against leaner budget airlines and its people
should be one of its core differentiator. The motivation and effectiveness of
those frontline staff must be a top priority.

King is editor of Personnel Today

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