Pay-grab allegation against BMI being investigated by pilot union

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) has asked its lawyers to decide if airline BMI has a case to answer after it alleged that the carrier withdrew pay from pilots’ bank accounts last month.

A Balpa spokesman said its lawyers were examining the details of the case “to decide if there was criminal or civil case” that could be brought against BMI.

The airline denies allegations that it removed money from the bank accounts of about 400 pilots on 28 January before repaying it a day or two later – minus the annual pay rise.

“Not only would that be illegal, it is also something we physically cannot do,” said a spokesman for BMI. “Money once paid cannot be removed from any employee’s bank account without prior permission.

“For the avoidance of any doubt BMI did not take any money out of employee bank accounts nor did it attempt to do so,” he added.

Chris Mordue, partner at Pinsent Masons, says BMI’s latest actions have compounded already existing industrial relations problems and made matters worse.

But Balpa said many of its members had sent it bank statements showing the January salary payment, including an agreed pay rise of £170 to £250 depending on the individual, going into accounts on 28 January, then being removed a few hours later. The union said the statements showed that the monthly salaries were then paid, up to three days later, minus the annual pay increase.

“Some of our members had direct debits going out during that time and were unable to meet them,” said the Balpa spokesman.

Through Balpa, BMI agreed a three-year pay deal for pilots equivalent to 0.5% above the retail price index in 2006, said the union – to be paid in each January in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “The company agreed the pay deal. The 2009 increase was paid, but the company then changed its mind and decided there would be no increase this year. [BMI] thus reneged on the pay deal, But worse went into pilots’ bank accounts,” he alleged, “and took back the January rise.”

Talks are going on between the two sides to resolve the row. Meanwhile, Balpa representatives are meeting with seven other European airline unions from five countries, including Germany and Austria, in Frankfurt on Monday (9 February) to decide on a wider approach to this dispute.

BMI is owned by German carrier Lufthansa which paid £7m for the airline a year ago.

A report in the Times said the German company wants BMI and its chief executive Nigel Turner to cut costs substantially. Balpa members are also being balloted on a vote of no confidence in Turner and the result is due in mid-February.

BMI is being advised by DLA Piper.

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