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Stay united-Never Forget: A National Officer’s view on support, strength and solidarity in BALPA.

by Terry Brandon BALPA National Officer

I have been a BALPA National Officer for nearly 15 years, helping numerous Company Councils and individual members in that time. For many people, the first time they actually get to know about the job of a National Officer, is when they need us… when we are supporting them through disciplinary action, assisting with a negotiation or helping them with another work-related issue. So, in this blog I will give bit of an outline of the role for those who have not come across their National Officer before.

First, a bit about me.

I joined BALPA in July 2008 after working for several union organisations such as the T&G (now Unite) and the TUC. I have responsibilities for BALPA membership in easyJet, Jet2, SAS Connect, West Atlantic, Norse Atlantic and Ascent training. I also pick up individual casework for members in Wizz.

What does a National Officer do?

A key role of the BALPA National Officer is building effective and dynamic teams. These teams include key people from BALPA HQ and, of course, the Company Councils and base reps. BALPA has excellent facilities and resources which are invaluable when preparing and delivering on a campaign or a negotiation. We work with these teams to represent members. We lead or assist with negotiations, guide the reps and represent members in individual and collective cases.

I work with many different Company Councils and I am proud to have been able to help members stand united and protect the piloting profession. Together we have achieved many things. I’ve helped individuals though tricky disciplinary cases, we’ve tackled difficult negotiations, we’ve fought for pay and benefits and we have stood up and helped shape the industry.

There are many examples of why I am proud to be a BALPA National Officer including supporting the Jet2 Company Council in the most challenging environment, being part of the CAE SAS pay team that delivered a 10% pay increase, securing voluntary recognition in West Atlantic, Norwegian and Norse Atlantic and removing Flexicrew within easyJet. A more recent example is being part of the easyJet CC which saved hundreds of pilot jobs during the COVID Crisis:

easyJet – Stay United Never Forget

The Covid pandemic and the failings on the government to restore confidence in the travelling public, meant that many airlines looked to balance their finances by reducing their headcount.  Some airlines did not survive at all.

In easyJet, the CEO announced proposals to change the shape and size of the airline’s network, which resulted in the company notifying BALPA in July 2020 that it was to put at risk of redundancy over 700 UK based pilots. The proposed downsizing of the UK network came as a huge shock. EasyJet crew at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle were told that their bases were to close and there was little hope of finding alternative positions in surviving bases.

Even before the heroic demonstration of unity shown during the redundancy consultation exercise, easyJet pilots robustly rebutted two proposed Coronavirus Co-operation agreements, ending in a vote of no confidence in the COO with a ballot result of 99.9% with a turnout of 95.7%.

Such strength of feeling galvanised the easyJet pilot community. A steady rise in membership meant that easyJet continues to have a significant membership density, and with it a powerful basis for negotiation. It is also an indicator that the pilot community had total confidence in their Company Council and Base Reps.

With such a high level of membership the Company Council entered a redundancy consultation exercise with easyJet. Throughout summer 2020, various headcount numbers were disputed, and the company’s financial viability argument challenged. During the process, the company even increased the FTE they wished to put at risk but again, BALPA resisted.

What followed become a heroic campaign involving the vast majority of easyJet BALPA members. Core trade union values and principles of unity and solidarity, possibly quite alien to some pilots, were adopted. The campaign is featured in the video below:

The Company Council supported by the UK Base Reps, provided regular updates through newsletters, teams meetings, Kaizala and daily email communication. The aspiration of the Company Council to prevent a single compulsory redundancy unified the easyJet pilot community. The campaign slogan ‘Stay United – Never Forget’ captured the pilot mood as the Company Council and HQ team worked relentlessly day and night to convince easyJet management – that easyJet pilots may be willing to make huge sacrifices to save over 700 pilot jobs – if time was granted to prove it.

The Company Council’s task of asking pilots to take a part-time option to the extent that it reduced the need to make any compulsory redundancies was daunting. To assist with the burden, BALPA also negotiated an enhanced redundancy package which around 50 pilots took advantage of.

To be involved in this process and part of an incredible team was very humbling and the achievement simply remarkable. The easyJet UK pilot community stood up and stood proud when they demonstrated unbelievable unity. At the end of the exercise, not a single pilot job was lost through compulsory measures. Very few people, including easyJet management believed that the easyJet members would unite so overwhelmingly and overcome the challenges the pilot community faced.

The easyJet Company Council, Base Reps and the hundreds of volunteers who sacrificed their own salary to save colleagues’ jobs is possibly one of the largest demonstrations of unity in modern trade union history.  As a BALPA official with several years’ experience under my belt, this is without doubt one of my proudest moments. Being a part of a team that delivered so much for so many – is an incredible experience. The easyJet reps, Sean Casey, Craig Wilson, Martin Entwisle, Caroline Clifford to name just a few are absolute heroes in the eyes of the BALPA family.

I love my work as a BALPA National Officer. I love representing you and working with the Company Councils to protect the piloting profession. I truly believe in the power of collaboration- that together we are stronger. BALPA’s strength is in its membership. I hope you will join me in that and I look forward to representing you in the future.