Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Thursday, 1 April 2010 12:35 UK

British Airways strike's 'toxic' staff legacy

One of the first casualties of the British Airways dispute has been staff relations, according to cabin crew. Morland Sanders, of BBC Radio 4's The Report, hears why this could be a poisonous legacy of the strike, affecting not just staff morale but BA's business.

Strikers at Heathrow on 27 March 2010
Cabin crew say staff relations have soured, but BA says they remain good

When the BA strike is finally resolved, what might be hard to rectify is the working relationships between staff and bosses and among employees.

The union claims 14 staff have been suspended for membership of a Facebook group that discussed a list of pilots who were prepared to be trained to cover for striking cabin crew. British Airways says it is appropriate it investigates allegations that some of its employees have been intimidated.

Some cabin crew say there are now divisions between staff who worked during the strike and those who took industrial action and they dread what kind of atmosphere this could create in the claustrophobic environment of a jet.

Francis [not his real name], a striking flight attendant, fears harmonious staff relations on board a flight could have vanished.

"The reason we have been selected for the job in the first place is to ensure people have a reasonably pleasant, safe and happy time on board and you can only do that by building a good rapport with your other colleagues and, of course, with the flight crew," he told The Report.

BBC Radio 4, Thursday 1 April at 2000 BST
Or download the podcast.

"Trying to set such an atmosphere in the current climate is next to impossible.

"It takes a tremendous effort, I've got to set the atmosphere and I've got to take the lead and do whatever I can to build a team to work together out of what could be a very disparate group of people."

He explained: "It could be people you know have broken the strike, it could be flight crew you know have done your job in your absence.

"I will have to be very careful in what I say in case it is wrongly interpreted and I am reported for bullying and harassment and then suspended, as many have [been] for far less.

"It's like walking on egg shells."

'Bare minimum'

Another flight attendant thinks tensions between those who went on strike and those who did not will cause a breakdown of trust between staff.

"Instead of having lots of banter, it will be purely functional," she said.

The attendant added: "We will still do a good job for the passengers but I do think it will be a bare minimum because, whatever we do, you don't get anything back from the company."

She fears that the friction caused by the strike could even affect emergency situations.

"Hopefully all the training will kick in, but if you have a division of people who went on strike and people who didn't, how are you supposed to operate as a team?"

Customer care

British Airways says: "Cabin crew are rightly renowned for their professionalism and skill, a fact that chief executive Willie Walsh has emphasised on numerous occasions throughout the dispute.

"Cabin crew are trained to a very high standard and their priority is always the safety of our customers."

But the breakdown in staff relations is not merely a case of a bad atmosphere at work, as it can affect a company's relationships with its customers and ultimately its trade, as Prof Ralph Darlington of the University of Salford explained.

Prof Darlington told The Report that a divided and demoralised staff in the strike's aftermath would be less likely to engage with customers and to embody the customer smile that "BA depends on".

The knock-on effect could make passengers less inclined to fly BA.

The company, however, maintains that staff relations are good.

A BA statement adds: "The vast majority of British Airways staff - including thousands of cabin crew who have ignored the strike - have shown their commitment to the company and its plans to pull through the worst recession the aviation industry has ever known.

"Across the bulk of our 38,000 staff, morale is extremely high.

"The views you are highlighting are not representative of the vast majority of cabin crew who are focused on our customers."

The Report is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 1 April at 2000 BST. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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