British Airlines Pilot union boss plots summer strike while basking in the Spanish sunshine

Sitting by a glorious sandy beach in the Spanish sunshine, the £141,000-a-year union activist Brian Sutton, General Secretary for BALPA (the British Airline Pilots’ Association), enjoyed a holiday with his wife Sue in Valencia this past April while also plotting strike chaos over the summer holidays.

The previous year Sutton was paid £155,242 – around £5,000 more than the prime minister received that year. Mr. Strutton later posted on Twitter: “Just had a fabulous mini-break in Valencia, what a great city. Loved it.” While there they dropped in at a cookery school – the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana – to learn how to cook the city’s traditional paella dish.

BALPA is the professional association and registered trade union established to represent the interests of all UK pilots. It represents over 10,000 pilots and is recognized in 23 different companies – over 85% of all commercial pilots flying in the UK.

Since returning to the UK, the 59-year-old union veteran has been busy orchestrating a mass strike by British Airways pilots that could scupper the holiday plans for hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Britain’s flag carrier yesterday failed to stop industrial action after a legal challenge was rejected by appeal judges. Pilots’ union BALPA has now made it clear the protest will go ahead unless there is a breakthrough in negotiations this week.

Strutton’s generous pay package may rankle with Britons on far more modest incomes who have been saving up for their summer holiday all year – and who may this month bear the brunt of the pilots’ dispute as they face chaos at Heathrow and Gatwick.

A BALPA spokesman said: “We understand the frustration and worry that possible industrial action in British Airways will cause for the travelling public, which is why we’re doing everything we can to avoid taking industrial action. Pilots have a legitimate dispute with their employer and not the travelling public. BA made a £2billion profit last year and pilots are legitimately asking for a fair share of the profit they contribute to.”

Pilots are paid an average basic salary of £167,000. On top of this they receive an hourly flying allowance whenever they are on duty worth between £14,000 and £15,000 a year. But BALPA points out that many are paid far less, with entry-level pilots paid just £26,000 – and many are still also repaying their training debts of up to £100,000.

Hundreds of thousands of British Airways passengers face summer strike chaos after pilots were cleared to hold a crippling walkout.

The union did not announce strike dates – but urged BA to “wake up to reality” as it stressed there was overwhelming support for action unless pilots across the UK receive a better pay deal.

BALPA teamed up with unions Unite and GMB to submit a joint pay claim and were offered 11.5 per cent pay deal. It emerged last night that members of GMB and Unite, which represent 90 percent of BA staff, have accepted the deal. This includes BA’s check-in staff at Heathrow, who are paid around £20,700 on average, and baggage handlers, who get about £23,800. Yet pilots are holding out on a deal that would push their average salary up to £200,000.

Talks at the London offices of conciliation service Acas resumed yesterday and are scheduled to continue for the rest of the week. BALPA warned the “window for negotiation and compromise is closing fast” and pointed out that union laws mean it is only required to give two weeks’ notice if it intends to strike.

This means it could go ahead from mid-August, at the height of the summer holidays.

During the legal battle, court documents submitted by BA revealed that pilots are paid an average salary of £167,000 a year. The pay hike on offer would be worth just over £19,000 on average. Pilots also receive an hourly “flying allowance’, which is typically worth between £14,000 and £15,000 a year.

Strutton, said he was determined to find a “peaceful solution” and avoid strikes, but he warned: “BA’s attempt to defeat the democratic view of their pilots in court, rather than deal with us across the negotiating table, has sadly wasted huge amounts of time and money that could have been put into finding a peaceful resolution. Now the window for negotiation and compromise is closing fast. BA need to wake up to reality. Our ballot returned 93 percent in favor of strike action.”

In court, BA had claimed a strike could cost it up to £40million a day, as well as causing mayhem for passengers. BALPA, which represents around 3,800 of BA’s 4,500 pilots, claimed that a single day of strike action would cost the airline more than settling the dispute by giving pilots a bigger pay rise.

Holidaymakers with BA flights booked over the next few weeks face an agonizing wait.

The airline has warned that about 800 flights could be grounded on the first day of strike action, affecting around 130,000 passengers a day.

In a statement, BA said it was “disappointed” that BALPA had chosen to threaten customers’ holidays with “unprecedented strike action.”

Ryanair has warned it is preparing to shed hundreds of jobs – as it has too many staff. The budget airline’s boss Michael O’Leary said the firm needed 600 fewer pilots and cabin crew by next year.

article by James Salmon, Transport Editor, Daily Mail