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January 11, 2011

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Bullying rife at BA, claims union

A top-down bullying culture has been allowed to grow unchecked at British Airways and needs to be urgently addressed, workers’ representatives have claimed.

The Unite union questioned BA staff at the end of last year on working conditions at the company. It claims a bullying culture has taken root at the airline, as a direct result of what it describes as the “war BA’s management has been waging against its cabin crew since 2009”.

Key findings of the union survey, which received 1905 responses, reveal:

  • almost one in every two workers at British Airways has been bullied;
  • over half of staff said they had been bullied by higher managers, while 29 per cent said they had been bullied by their line manager;
  • intimidation, unfair criticism and humiliation were cited as the top three forms of bullying;
  • almost two-thirds of staff (65 per cent) did not report an incident of bullying;
  • 37 per cent of respondents did report bullying, but of those, two thirds said no follow-up action was taken by the company; and
  • almost two-thirds of respondents said they had been abused by passengers, among which 9 per cent had been physically abused.

The highest number of respondents reported that bullying had taken place over the last six months (43 per cent). Asked about the effects they had suffered as a result of being bullied, 84 per cent of respondents cited anxiety; 65 per cent reported loss of sleep; and 57 per cent admitted to depression.

In recent months, says Unite, 70 cabin crew have been suspended and 18 sacked, with three later reinstated. It is calling on BA to: end what it describes as “the culture of intimidation, imposition and union-busting”; give greater recognition to union reps; and conduct an independent review of sackings of crew and reps.

The union has been locked in a long and bitter dispute with BA management over the airline’s cost-reduction programme, which included asking staff to submit voluntary applications for part-time working and redundancy, and reducing crew numbers on flights.

The union insists that BA is set on imposing new staff employment contracts under poorer terms and conditions. Consequently, Unite members staged several days of strikes last year and are currently voting on whether to take further industrial action.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, Unite general secretary, Tony Woodley, said: “BA management urgently needs to do a corporate U-turn and sit down with Unite representatives to address this bullying epidemic. That begins with lifting the sanctions imposed on over 6000 cabin crew who took action last year, and immediate agreement that a third party will analyse those cases where workers have been disciplined or dismissed, often on the flimsiest of pretexts.”

In a press statement, BA said it utterly refuted the union’s claims of bullying. It added: “The company has an established disciplinary process that is consistent across the airline, has been in place for many years, and has been agreed with all of the airline’s recognised trade unions, including Unite. €ᄄ€ᄄ“We also provide access to Safecall, a dedicated freephone number for staff manned by professional, third-party counsellors, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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13 years ago

While it is good to be sceptical of this survey I am surprised at the dismissive attitude to the results. I also worked for British Airways, for 39 years prior to early retirement in 2003. At that stage I was a senior manager. During my career I was aware of instances of bullying, sometimes from a senior level. The CEOs in control during my years were a varied bunch but mostly fair. I cannot voice the same confidence in the current leadership. I have a daughter and former colleagues still in BA.

13 years ago

Before drawing any conclusions I would like to ensure the questions were not loaded to guide an un happy workforce down a route to complain about bullying. Maybe BA need to have an independant audit carried out before commenting or taking action.

13 years ago

The method behind this survey is a joke and you can draw nothing from the results.

13 years ago

what a load of rubbish. I worked for BA as cabin crew for 5 years and not only was I not bullied personally, I never knew of other crew who were. I then worked for BA for a further 2 years in another department and there was no bullying there either. It’s the Unions stirring up all this trouble and crew would be better off resigning from Unite. The only genuninely dislikable character I met while i was crew was, surprise, surprise, a union rep!

13 years ago

One in every two bullied – of the 1905 presumably? Not much of a response out of the number in that uinon or employed by BA. What a pointless article.