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The Two Hundred Million Pound Strike

The 2003 British Airways Walkout


Ed Blissett

This book describes and analyses the 2003 British Airways (BA) Customer Service Agents’ (CSA) 24-hour unofficial strike. It examines the lead up to the dispute, in which negotiations failed to reach an agreement over the launch of BA’s Automatic Time Recording and Integrated Airport Resource Management systems, before focusing on the dispute itself and its eventual resolution.

Central to the book is the question: why did a group of union members, the majority of whom were young women, become so incensed at an imposed change to their working practices that they took unofficial strike action? This they did in the knowledge that they could all have been legally dismissed.

In analysing the strike, the book explores why BA’s management imposed such a controversial change to working practices on the company’s busiest weekend of the year. A decision which, allegedly, cost the company two-hundred-million pounds, tarnished its reputation, and saw numerous senior managers lose their jobs.

How and why the CSAs’ three trade unions (the GMB Union, the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus) reacted in such different ways to the unofficial strike, and then behaved so differently in the subsequent negotiations, is also central to this study.

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Chapter 7 The August 2003–November 2018 negotiations


Following the endorsement of the 30 July 2003 interim agreement, the CSA senior reps prepared to undertake further negotiations over ATR and iARM with the company. These started in early August with BA being represented by the local Customer Service and IR managers.

The negotiations between BA and the CSA reps, as one management interviewee observed, ‘got off to a slow start and then decelerated’. The reason for this lack of urgency, which was to characterise the entirety of the negotiations, was reflected upon by another BA management contributor:

Nobody wanted the talks to fail and there to be a re-escalation of the dispute. So, although we felt the union side were not being constructive, there was no desire to send the negotiations up to the ‘A’ scale panel. Instead we tried to explore different ways forward.

A union interviewee added:

It was clear from the start that there we were unlikely to ever agree over ATR and iARM. Instead, at first, there was a lot of discussion about what management called the ‘anomalies window’ which covered workers being allowed to leave a shift early when there was no operational reason for them to remain. This had always been linked to staff previously agreeing to stay on at the end of a shift when the operation was delayed.

These initial local negotiations around the ‘anomalies window’ also covered staff being able to sign in and out, while the negotiations about...

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