British Airways Strike: Scabs Better Than Strikers

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/17/2010 04:43:00 PM
The newswires are buzzing here in the UK about how British Airways cabin crews have been ordered back on the job by the High Court just a day before they were scheduled to go on strike again. Due to technical reasons in the way the Unite union (which 97% of cabin crew belong to) handled the strike ballot, BA has been able to secure an injunction. As if the airline isn't losing enough money from the sporadic belchings of Eyjafjallajokull. From Auntie:
British Airways has won a High Court injunction to stop the latest strikes by its cabin staff. The decision was based on a technicality and whether Unite followed rules in contacting its members with strike result details. The first of four five-day walkouts had been due to begin at midnight, but will not go ahead following Mr Justice McCombe's decision.

The union has said it will appeal against the injunction decision. BBC business editor Robert Peston said the decision created more uncertainty for passengers, and for employees. "Although the company may regard it as a victory, it doesn't appear to have solved what is a very serious industrial relations problem," our correspondent said.
However, the real question to me is whether British Airways should care to go to such great lengths to retain its regular (and quite militant) cabin crew. As these folks are paid significantly more than yours truly despite their apparent surliness, I am not exactly sympathetic to their cause. Given that there are literally thousands of unemployed here in the UK who would gladly fill in these posts, you can argue that they have greater incentive to do a good job than the strikers do.

Well, what do you know? As rolling strikes are expected to start once again depending on the outcome of the ruling, keep in mind that customer satisfaction ratings were actually higher for the replacement crew (or scabs in "industrial action" terminology than for the regulars. From the Evening Standard comes this insightful article:
Air passengers preferred the volunteer staff who replaced the regular cabin crew during the latest British Airways strike. A survey found there were small but key improvements among satisfaction levels when employees from other parts of the company took over during the seven-day industrial action at the end of March. The regular “Think Customer” questionnaire found overall satisfaction levels rose to 76 per cent, a one per cent increase on the previous survey. When passengers were asked whether they were happy “with the presence of staff” 75 per cent reported they were — a rise of two per cent.

There was also a two per cent increase when travellers were asked if problems were dealt with correctly. One passenger said: “My memory is how great the overall experience was from all members of your team bearing in mind they must have been under enormous pressure.” The survey was published in the in-house magazine BA News.

A company insider said: “We are delighted with the results. Although the increases are small they are key factors in showing how well the volunteer staff did their jobs — and they were clearly appreciated by our customers.” Union sources said: “BA would say that wouldn't they – it's a company survey which we would dispute.”

A further 20 days of strikes begin on Tuesday in the long-running cabin crew dispute. BA expects to have to cancel more than 5,000 flights and is preparing for a busy weekend with passengers trying to get away early.
Yes, you can complain that the surveys were conducted by BA, but the point is that I can think of no airline that farms out its customer feedback operations to, say, Deloitte. An economist type could have a field day with this finding--"people respond to incentives," whereas the strikers have a sense of (misplaced?) entitlement. All I can say is, why be so keen on keeping the strikers when there are apparently many out there who are at least as able to satisfy the customers?

And, of course, you can follow the latest news on the strike from the BA site.