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Bristow Helicopters Strike: The BALPA perspective

by Amy Leversidge BALPA General Secretary

Bristow Helicopters Strike

Today BALPA has launched industrial action with our helicopter pilots and technical crews employed by Bristow Helicopters in Search and Rescue services and flying workers in the Oil and Gas industry out to the rigs in the North Sea.

Dedicated crews

These pilots and crew work in some of the most treacherous conditions. At any one time there are tens of thousands of workers offshore and every single one gets to work, and gets home, by helicopter. It goes without saying that the Oil and Gas industry contributes significantly to the UK economy and the skills and expertise of helicopter pilots are vital to the industry.

It is not hyperbole to say our pilots and technical crews working in Search and Rescue are heroes, it is what they are. They risk their lives everyday to save others. Their skills and knowledge, developed through years and years of experience and intense continued training and drills, is as close as irreplaceable as you can get. Search and Rescue is a vital emergency service, one that must be valued and protected.

We did not want to be here. Industrial action is always a last resort. But after over a year of intense negotiations around pay we have reached the point that the employer will not listen to it’s own workforce. Our members in Bristow have endured years of pay restraint as they stood by the company loyally to build it up to the success it is today. The company is now making money and is bidding for more and more business. But they have shown they are not willing to reward their skilled workforce and let them share in the success they helped to make.

As a result of negotiations, we have put various offers to our members, all of which have been rejected. In February this year we announced the result of our ballot for industrial action ballot and 96.31% of members voted to take industrial action, this was with a 92.74% turnout.

The negotiations

We voluntarily postponed our first round of industrial action as a mark of respect for colleagues in Bristow Norway who were involved in the tragic accident in February. We then agreed with the employer that we would suspend the next two rounds of industrial action to enter into ACAS talks and give them the space to put an acceptable offer to our members.

The ACAS talks were fraught. Rather than focusing on resolving our dispute, which is about pay, the company tabled an offer that rewrote the entire terms and conditions of our members resulting in a complicated document stripping many members of Ts & Cs they had been entitled to for many years. We repeatedly tried to negotiate with the company and implored them to see sense and focus on pay. We were told the pay offer on the table was predicated on the changing terms and conditions – confirming our fears that this deal would mean workers would pay for their own inflationary pay increase by reducing their terms and conditions.

A member led organisation

We know our members and we knew this would be unacceptable to them. But as a member-led union we still put the offer out to ballot and postponed our industrial action again while we allowed members to vote. Our members rejected it – 95.5% of our members to be precise, on a 93% turnout.

On return to ACAS talks the company came unprepared. It took them over a week to table an offer that had barely changed and in some cases it was worse than before. We implored Bristow management – we couldn’t put a worse offer to members when they had already rejected a deal. Yet again they refused to listen to reason.

We have always been clear what will resolve this dispute – a fair and sensible pay offer that our members will accept. We have tried everything to resolve this dispute and have repeatedly shown goodwill, frequently postponing our industrial action to allow the time and space to allow talks to take place.

Unfortunately, goodwill runs out and it is with great regret today that BALPA members in Bristow Helicopters have been forced into taking industrial action.

Industrial action

We always say that industrial action is the last resort, and while that is true for trade unions it isn’t the last resort for our members, our members’ last resort is to leave their job. Loyalty and experience are worth their weight in gold and it is a reckless employer that takes them for granted.

My members should be doing the job they love today but instead they are doing something else, just as important for the future of the industry – ensuring that helicopter pilots and technical crews are valued and rewarded fairly.