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Life at the negotiating table

by Terry Brandon National Officer

Hello, I am Terry Brandon, one of the National Officers at BALPA. I joined BALPA in July 2008 after working for several union organisations such as the T&G (now Unite) and the TUC. I became involved in union work at an early age and developed from a shop steward into a full-time organiser and later, an officer. To compliment my experience I also have several work related qualifications including a degree in industrial relations.

The role of the National Officers has been crucial to some of the key successes at BALPA. With a very strong team involving all departments, we have delivered on campaigns such as the easyJet plane easyJet pilot casualisation initiative and union recognition in Jet2.com, West Atlantic and OSM Aviation (Norwegian).

I firmly believe that a significant amount of union work is about building effective and dynamic teams. These teams include key people from HQ and, of course, the Company Councils and base reps. We have excellent facilities and resources at our disposal which are invaluable when preparing and delivering on a campaign or negotiations.

The changing face of the National Officer role

A few years back, the Industrial Relations department reviewed the role of the ‘Principal Negotiator’ as we were then called and also our job description. This review encouraged the full-time officers to reflect on how we were working and what could be improved. The title of ‘Principal Negotiator’ was changed to National Officer to reflect a more generic union officer role. Negotiations are only one part of our job; we are also communicators, leaders, campaigners, representatives, educators, organisers and crucially, the key person who builds effective teams and manages the relationship with the employer.

The role of a full-time union official is different from that of a CC rep. I have worked with several CCs including Monarch, DHL, KLC, Loganair and GSS. I am currently privileged to have an allocation that includes easyJet, Norwegian, West Atlantic and more recently, leading the recovery plan in Virgin Atlantic.  As an officer working with several CCs I try to capture their energy and motivation, and shape this into viable plans for negotiation or campaigns.

Managing relationships

One of my major roles as a National Officer is to manage the relationship between us and the employer. In general, industrial relations has a spiky profile so there will inevitably be ups and downs, successes and, of course, disputes. There will also be times when we, as a union get things wrong. This is of course the most difficult time. The challenge as I see it is not to be so risk averse because we are scared of criticism, but too ensure that when we take a on a particular issue, campaign or negotiation, we have our membership support and, crucially, engagement.  

In some of the smaller airlines, like West Atlantic or complicated business models like Norwegian, the employer (OSM in Norwegian’s case) can often see BALPA as a huge asset. Our skills, experience and expertise in areas such as scheduling, FRMS, pensions and employment and contract law are second to none and the relationship with such organisations allows us to apply influence at almost every level.

Dealing with individual cases

As well as harnessing the collective, my role also involves dealing with individual cases. The saddest part of my role is supporting a member who has lost his/her job through ill health or through a performance issue. Most airlines are pragmatic and modern in their approach whilst others are less sympathetic. Dealing with such sensitive issues as a pilot losing his/her livelihood is of course traumatic for the individual.

Litigation is also a major part of my role.  A lot of legal work is simply obtaining legal advice which is used to support a position, but a lot of referrals concern individual cases. This could range from a personal injury claim to discrimination, and unfair dismissals. Collective cases by definition have a wider impact and many concern major successes such as our holiday pay win.

Those who work with me will know that I love my job. It’s a privilege to be a trade union officer and a pleasure to work with so many excellent reps. The role can be challenging, as you would expect, and demanding, but I am proud to work with the fantastic teams of which I have been part of.

We have a new General Secretary Brian Strutton, new ideas, and rejuvenated office. It’s right and proper we use this opportunity to push the Association onto an even higher level.