March 16, 2011

British Airways & Unite the Union in Baby Battle- Why I Side With BA

While reading along the news headlines on Twitter, I stumbled across a link to a press release by Unite, the union which represents British Airways cabin crew.
They have taken issue with a decision by BA to require female employees who become pregnant and are unable to perform ground duties to take unpaid leave.

The issue which appears to be a simple one, becomes a little more complicated when it's revealed that some of the crew concerned are what are known in the inustry as "commuters"- they live outside of areas of crew bases for BA -or even the UK entirely- and fly in to work their rostered duties.

You can read the Unite article here.

I have some points to make on this subject, and would like to know what my readers think on this issue. I must mention in advance, that my views are my personal views only & I apologise if you are offended by my opinion, but in the interests of debate I am writing this post.

Point 1:
BA cabin crew, that become pregnant and live too far to travel to Heathrow or Gatwick to perform ground duties, will now be forced to take unpaid leave by the airline.... (Unite article)

In every airline I've worked for, if an employee has become unfit to perform their work through pregnancy, the contractual agreement is that to retain employment, the employee must undertake any duties re-assigned to them as the employer sees fit & as appropriate to their condition.

For pregnant flight attendants and pilots, this usually meant administration, airport terminal or other customer service ground-based roles. If the employee is unable to do so because of personal choices (like place of residence) or is unwilling, then in my view unpaid leave is a fair option in trade of the employee keeping their job.

Point 2:
"Over the years BA has recruited its cabin crew staff from all parts of the UK as well as from continental Europe. BA has closed its regional bases forcing workers to travel hundreds of miles to their place of work, yet it now intends to stop payment to any pregnant crew staff member who is unable to commute to BA’s last two hubs, Heathrow and Gatwick. (Unite article)

When flight attendants are hired by airlines, we sign a contract of employment. Every cabin crew contract I've ever seen has contained a clause which states that the employee must, to continue employment, move at the direction of the company to a crew basing (on either temporary or permanent basis) to fulfill operational requirements of the airline.

True, BA used to base crew in Europe. For whatever reason (either political, economical or other) they closed those bases. Imagine the outcry if BA had just sacked those crew. They did not, they allowed them to commute to keep their jobs if they did not want to move to another basing. Last time I checked, it was up to the employee to ensure they are able to get to work, not the other way around.

Staying in a closed base and commuting to your base of operation is a CHOICE, as is moving to a new base to keep your job. Deciding that commuting is not for you and you cannot fulfil the new requirements of the employment is also a CHOICE.

Point 3:
Many crew chose to live outside of the UK and commute to work, even in cities that were not crew bases, for various reasons. Whether they be lifestyle, tax benefits, or a cheaper cost of living is irrelevant. Those crew CHOSE to live overseas and commute.

In the UK, crew are required to be grounded as soon as they discover pregnancy. This is due to concerns for the safety of both mother and child due to the strenuous nature of flying on the body. BA faces a dillemma- face accusations of 'discrimination' for giving unpaid leave to women unable/unwilling to perform alternative duties, or allow them fly to commute to their work.

Clearly, they cannot allow this as the women would be working and therefore I assume subject to the same rules as flight attendants while pregnant. Therefore, instead of terminating the employment they offer unpaid leave. This is not good enough for the union. I must also point out that other female workers at BA who are not cabin crew, do not receive pay unless they remain working up until the "maternity leave" period begins. They cannot stay at home and not work while getting paid until their maternity leave starts, which is much later than cabin crew.

I must also question if the crew residing outside of the UK are covered by those UK employment laws, as even though they are employed by a UK company, they do not live in the UK. I think they are, but it does rile me a little that they want either a better lifestyle or tax breaks than the UK offers, but also want to keep the protections of provisions like maternity leave under UK law.

(I also do not think BA is refusing maternity leave, merely asking that the cabin crew performs other duties to get it.) Not unreasonable, considering that BA is a business and not a charity. Most non-airline companies require some kind of services for at least a portion of a pregnancy until the woman is no longer able to do so DUE TO HER PREGNANCY, not other factors like where she lives or how she gets to work.

While I see the need for provisions such as maternity leave, in this case I do not believe the employer should be penalised for the choices of the employee. I am sure many BA crew would love to live closer to loved ones, or in Europe, but realise that the practicalities of commuting life do not make for a good working environment and possibilities for the future.

Although I feel for these ladies wanting to keep their jobs, they cannot have their cake and eat it too. Either you live somewhere which is conducive to fulfilling your contract (whether that is flying or ground duties) or you find employment that allows you to live in that place if that is what you choose.

When I originally applied to my airline, the only crew base available was on the other side of the country. I did not want to live there, for my own reasons, and decided that rather than commuting I would hold out in hope they would open applications for a basing in my city (They did, and I got it.)

While I don't want to make a debate about maternity leave, I do want to give some perspective as to the fact that some things come down to discrimination, and some to choices that we make. These ladies knew when they accepted their jobs that there were certain requirements. Just because they want to have children does not make them exempt from fulfilling their contracts of employment.

In some airlines, crew are not allowed to be unmarried and have children. They are aware of this when they join and if they decide they want children, they either marry or resign.

I think in this situation BA have come up against an unforeseen issue with commuting crew. The solution may be to restrict commuting on the basis that crew will either resign on becoming pregnant or relocate to a non-commuting base to continue employment.

This would not be feasible either as again, the issue of discimination arises.

Campaign photo from Unite.

Caption should be addended ("because she chooses to live outside of a crew base")

I'd love to know what you think. Are the crew going too far in wanting to keep their jobs as a paid leave when they are unable to perform the duties required by their employer?

Are BA being too harsh in this case? What do you think they should do?
Feel free to leave me a comment or drop by my Twitter or Facebook pages.

(Campaign Photo from HERE, pregnant woman: Google Image Search) )


  1. I agree with you; its difficult to go on maternity leave and not continue to get paid, but its a choice that they made, like you said. In my opinion, keeping the job is good enough, some flight attendants leave their airlines and later have to restart the whole hiring debacle all over again.

  2. A reader in the UK has informed me that BA are in fact, paying a basic wage but do not want to pay "extras" to the crew who are not performing ground duties.

    Quite fair in my opinion!!!

  3. ONE post since mid-January and mostly filler at that? ONe has to wonder WHY you maintain the spot. Blogs are (were) intended to spread some Personal Expression within a given field. Where Are your thoughts? WHile many of your original posts were informative and stimulating, I;m just not seeing worthwile stuff these days. Maybe I have t he wrong address? In short, if one wants to blog about this business, do it and do it it often. It also helps to keep the posts polite, even when the meaning is sharp. (Yes, sharp criticisims of policy and procedure ARE reasonable, as long as you are not ID'd. Perhaps you have been, or someone did not like one of your posts. Sorry to hear that! And, as said, if you are not going to blog-post on a regular basis, git OFF the air, please. Nuff said. -C.

  4. In all fairness Cedarglen, it is your own choice to read this blog. If you don't like it, don't read it.

  5. Cedarglen, I wasn't aware my opinion is "filler". As far as I'm concerned, three article quotes in a rather lengthy post is not filler.

    I do not get paid to blog and rather than turn this blog into an endless negative rant about working conditions or stupid passenger behaviour, I chose not to post. I primarily blog for my own enjoyment & the schedule of my readers comes second.

    I also have personal commitments and yes you are correct in assuming that concern for my job security does have a degree of influence on what I do post. For reasons which I do not want to and will not discuss here, some time went past between posts.

    I didn't feel compelled to write a post until now, as much as I would have loved to post lots, the inspiration just wasn't there. For those "in between" times, I maintain a Twitter & Facebook account for my readers to interact with me, which is easier to do during my travels. Perhaps you missed that part.

    Of course, I try to please my readers & keep the blog interesting but I will not post crap just to keep "Doing it often" & keep the post count up. By the way I will not "Git OFF the air" just because my posting is not as often as you would like.

    Finally, I notice you have a closed Blogger profile. May I ask if you own a blog yourself? If so, you are likely familiar with the challenges of writing a blog and the occasional "writer's block" that may entail.

    If you do own a blog, I wonder that you do not want to open it up to possible praise & criticisms from readers as I do. Until that time, I really don't think you're qualified to comment on what constitutes the "right" way to run a blog.

  6. I was going to comment on your post, but then I just had to comment on the comment.

    "Get off the air"

    Seriously? It's not like the Internet is running out of space. Sheesh.

  7. I work for American Airlines and we are only allowed to work as Flight Attendants up to our 7th month of pregnancy... then it is unpaid leave until you come back to work after the baby is born. We get 6 weeks unpaid leave after the birth but can take 12 weeks of unpaid family leave if we want after that.

  8. It's interesting to see the different arrangements between airlines. I guess though that the policy is freely known & made available to you when joining, so you know what you're signing up for?


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