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Managing relationships

by Terry Brandon National Officer

One of the key roles for the BALPA National Officers is to manage the relationship between BALPA and the airline. We are the employed trained negotiators who work with Company Councils to represent BALPA members and give them a voice. Generally, airlines appreciate that the union is the professional body that can help them reach agreement on matters concerning, pay, hours, holidays, scheduling and health and safety, as well as finding solutions on day to day issues such as disciplinaries and grievances. 

The very nature of industrial relations means it would be impossible for the employer and union to agree to have such a long-standing relationship without the occasional fall-out. It is during these times when professional heads are required to maintain day-to-day business, even when BALPA is in a failure to agree process or even in a dispute situation. 

Naturally, neither BALPA nor the airline wants to be constantly in conflict. It is not good for the membership and could be detrimental to the company. 

With this understanding, industrial relations professionals on both sides endeavour to work together to find solutions. There is an old school of thought that says a dispute is a consequence of a negotiation failure, so professional negotiators have to be solution oriented. The experienced personnel from both parties understand the wider dynamics of industrial relations, including divorcing emotion from situations to ensure that finding a remedy in a stalemate in addition to ensuring that the respective teams can continue to operate at a general practical everyday level. 

Not every airline subscribes to this common ethos. Some airlines like to be ‘unique’ in their approach to industrial relations. To combat this, BALPA HQ is experienced and capable of adapting immediately to any challenge we may face, including using industrial, flight safety, legal, media and campaigning to apply pressure to an employer.

The advice National Officers often give to employers is ‘you get the unions you deserve.’ Sensible managers make good deals, poor managers would rather try and score points. Our jobs as professional negotiators is to separate the people from the problem and focus on the interests not the positions. Occasionally, problematic management can be circumvented through the escalation process, so it is important to remember not to get bogged down on one item or perhaps a difficult individual.  

Equally, the escalation process encourages more senior union officers to become involved at each of the stages. This allows for both sides to encourage more experienced union negotiators and company decision makers to find a pathway through a dispute. Obviously, solutions cannot always be found so BALPA may consult members on possible industrial action to try and force an employer to a sensible position.

It is almost impossible to finish an article about what we do as a trade union without linking any success we may have to strong membership and Company Councils/negotiating teams. To find a solution we have to understand what our members will find acceptable – that’s aspiration – but we can only delver on this by being a strong team – that’s organisation. 

We are all BALPA.