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British Airways (Disputes)

Volume 931: debated on Monday 9 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will list the disputes that have occurred at British Airways, or at BEA and BOAC before the formation of British Airways, over the last five years that have resulted in a loss of more than £1 million to the airline

Six disputes fall into this category. Industrial action was taken by cabin crew and engineering supervisors in 1974 and by TriStar maintenanace staff in 1975, when there were also problems with the integration of the cargo centre. This year there was industrial action by aircraft and catering loaders, and most recently of course by engineering maintenance staff.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that these disputes usually take place during peak holiday times? Will he condemn the infliction of hardship on travellers as a means of industrial bargaining?

That is not a particularly constructive or helpful approach. It is not likely that industrial disputes would take place in the middle of the night when there are scarcely any aircraft movements. Of course the travelling public are inconvenienced, and one regrets that. British Airways management and the unions concerned are anxious to produce a better industrial relations scenario at Heathrow, and I believe that they are thinking positively about that.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, despite the many negotiations that have been going on at Heathrow between British Airways and the unions, there are still some sensitive points over which trouble could brew again because of misunderstandings? Will he consult the Secretary of State for Employment and ask him to offer his services to the unions and the management to prevent a recurrence of what happened some weeks ago?

My hon. Friend is right in saying that there are still sensitive areas at Heathrow. I can assure him that Ministers in the Departments of Trade and Employment are watching the situation carefully, as is ACAS. Although there may be difficulties—and one cannot be complacent about that—British Airways are taking a new initiative in employee participation with the unions, and this is to be encouraged.