British Airways has asked call centre staff to collect complaints by passengers about cabin crew discussing strike action with customers or making “adverse comments” about the airline.
The carrier’s inflight customer experience unit, which manages flight attendants, has launched a trial in which examples of “inappropriate comments” to passengers will be relayed to staff.
A memo to call centre employees states: “The inflight customer experience team would like to track details of when passengers have made complaints about our crew that are deemed serious enough to take disciplinary action.”
The instructions add that managers at the inflight division are seeking examples of complaints that “would be suitable for feedback to the crew members”. It asks for complaints relating to racist remarks, inappropriate comments about passengers, swearing, adverse comments about BA, and inappropriate comments about strike action.
BA said examples of swearing, racism or inappropriate comments by cabin crew were extremely rare and the trial did not indicate a disciplinary crackdown.
Disciplinary proceedings against cabin crew have become a barrier to resolving an industrial dispute with the Unite trade union after the sacking of 13 flight attendants and the suspension of more than 60 since a dispute over changes to working practices erupted last year. Those suspended include a shop steward responsible for representing staff in disciplinary cases.
BA pilots and cabin crew have raised concerns about morale during the industrial action, amid concerns that discussing the dispute could lead to accusations from colleagues of bullying and harassment. Writing for Comment is Free this year, a senior pilot wrote of “unsustainable” tensions on flights after 22 days of industrial action.
“Having recently returned from a trip during the strike, what ‘outsiders’ can’t see is the fear, intimidation and unsustainable conditions endured by those who are working,” said the pilot.
BA said the trial was part of a drive to improve feedback between customers and staff. “The trial relates simply to a new method of collating information about any complaints.
“We have always investigated complaints and will continue to do so. The trial will make no difference to the conduct of disciplinary procedures, should any investigations lead to them.”
Unite represents about 30,000 of BA’s 40,000-strong workforce and has threatened to escalate the cabin crew dispute to a company-wide confrontation because of the disciplinary cases.
In an address to all Unite members at BA the Unite joint general secretary, Tony Woodley, said he feared the airline wanted to undermine trade unionism across the business – a charge that BA denies vehemently. Woodley said he intended to call a meeting of senior shop stewards at BA to discuss a co-ordinated response.
However, he played down the prospect of a rapid move to an industrial ballot.
BA said it was committed to working with trade unions and had already agreed deals with Unite over eliminating its pension deficit.