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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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Appendix 2 The 30 July 2003, ‘Memorandum of Agreement’


(1) The trade unions recognise that a swipe card system is an integral part of improving the efficient use of staff and resources to enable BA to better compete in very difficult market conditions.

(2) The company have identified some key areas relating to iARM where they believe efficiency can be improved and would like to take the opportunity to put these ideas to the staff reps for their consideration and response. Other maters being progressed will continue to be progressed. The trade unions are committed to engage with the company positively and constructively aiming to be in a position to recommend agreed changes to their members.

(3) Both the company and the trade unions have agreed the following structure and a timetable to negotiate iARM. As previously committed the company will provide all necessary documentation to the negotiators. A joint working party of operational joint airport ‘A’ scale NSP reps with an appropriate management team, which would report back to the NSP, will take this work forward aiming to conclude these negotiations by 17 September.

(4) In order for these iARM negotiations to take place in a positive environment the company is withdrawing the mandatory implementation of ATR which would only become fully operational on 1 September. Until the new system is fully operational staff may choose to use it on a voluntary basis. The purpose of the ATR system is solely to record the check-in and check-out time of each employee on...

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