The issue of the ongoing 16-day British Airways cabin crew strike which begun on July 1, 2017, brings to mind a lot of questions about how such a globally renowned airline with all the galaxy of experts and the caliber of people in its management could get to this state once again.
It is important to note that this is actually not the first time such an industrial action is taken by the Mixed Fleet Cabin Crew. The main issues the Unite Union (of which the workers belong) brought to the front are that “they are receiving poverty pay”.
The question one is tempted to ask is, what management and dispute resolution mechanisms do they have place. And why were they not able to prevent, or resolve the issues at stake early?
Well, the case of BA is a clear indication that conflict knows no barrier and the reputation of organizations, and this and other cases show that despite it’s a firm’s global popularity and structures, is prone to unresolvable differences that can escalate into serious crisis, which can not only dent organizational image but also has exert considerable impact on customer loyalty, cost and productivity.
It is suspected that that a poor Labour-Management Cooperation could have been the cause of the incidence at British Airways, and undoubtedly, that has been the root of all strike actions. It is eminent to understand that when the level of openness between Management and Union is low, the only consequent result will be a disruption in their relationship as social partners.
When this happens, the extent of perceptions between Labour and Management degenerates, leading either party to operate in a negative Red zone of taking actions to protect their interest based on the information available to them which could or could not be a reflection of what the real issues are. These actions have tremendous adverse effects on not only the organisation, but also on its cherished customers and brand.
The effect of this recent strike could be more disruptive than in previous episodes of industrial actions as the strike has been calculated to be commercially damaging to BA. It will greatly inconvenience the journeys for their cherished customers who pay huge sums to enjoy their services and at the same time deter prospective customers who cannot trust the credibility of the services of the airline.
Even though the management of BA, like any other management in crisis, took a contingency plan of entering into partnership with Qatar Airways to serve its customers in the interim that does not guarantee the elimination of the matter at hand.
The question then becomes what could be the way forward to seeking mutual resolution of the matter and creating a working environment that will forestall future strike actions of such nature?
In looking for a collaborative work relationship that is devoid of negative perceptions that will fuel negative industrial actions, it is recommended that management have a conversation about the best way to introduce a principled Labour-Management-Cooperation underpinned by a philosophy, attitude and a process to be institutionalized to serve as a guide in the relationship between Labour and Management, such that will eliminate the cancer of perennial strikes.
These principles of Labour-Management-Cooperation provides an opportunity for labour and management to jointly see what they do well and what it will take to multiply the same in different ways while at the same time it does not require either party to lose its identity or relinquish its role. Both parties must recognize that cooperation, and long-range preparation and planning are in the best interest of all stakeholders and the business as a whole.
A successful labour-management-cooperation process establishes structures for a direct and representative participation in brainstorming open to all members of the organization, frequent and timely feedback of information and rewards and sharing of relevant information and expertise. It also guarantees individual rights and liberties (fundamental fairness, i.e., providing for the opportunity of review of conclusions.
True labour-management cooperation is characterized by joint ownership, structural design, control, implementation, and communication and these principles should be developed and viewed as a long-term effort designed to improve organizational efficiency and must be fully integrated with contract of service/negotiation and administration as well as organizational goals and values, setting the tone for an Interest Based Negotiation which is the most transparent and fascinating way of negotiating conditions of service without hurting the Social Partnership
The managements of organisation in a bid to avoid disruption in their social partnership with workers, must develop a genuine process to negotiate in good faith collectively on issues to regulate terms and conditions of employment and work, productivity, remuneration and other benefits including non-employment and dispute resolution based on relevant information sharing, brainstorming, options and consensus-decision.
The continued unprincipled negotiation (adversarial/old bargaining) in many organisations as is evident in the case of the British Airways, portrays a picture of a high level of mistrust by the union. Normally, unions result to an industrial strike action when they feel they are been “cheated” or that the information available to them is not a true reflection of what really goes on in their organisation. The lack of communication and sharing of relevant information that will promote a successful negotiation process leads either party to operate in a cycle of perceptions which in most cases is negative. Once this perception sets in, the level or quality of conversation between both Labour and Management becomes rather insignificant as built-in negative perceptions set them both operating on different BEACH (Beliefs, Expectations, Assumptions, Concerns and Hopes) perspective, hence collaboration in hampered.
In her book Conversation for Change, Dr Nancy love, an author, mediator and lecturer explains that the answer to moving two parties operating in the Red zone of emotionality in the cycle of perception where there is always a negative reaction as in the case of British Airways and many other organisations, is to have a purposeful conversation guided by a very important protocol known as the GHOST principles. This principle recommends that both Labour and Management speak Gently, be Honest to each other about what is being said, be Open to the other parties view, be Specific to the issues that are of interest or concern to and Talk about them. The principles rules out element of dishonesty and mistrust, creating an avenue for both Labour and Management to explore the interest of each other and try to find a common ground.
It is when this guided conversation in line with the Principles of Labour Management Cooperation comes into play that you can have both Management and Unions drop their negative perceptions of mistrust and make an effort to move towards a common BEACH of understanding and fair play where they can generate options, moderate their expectations and see the concern of the other social partner as theirs. In this environment, a common understanding is achievable and a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached without force or failure. It becomes strategically imperative on both Labour and Management to actively reorient their efforts to upholding these principles and ensuring that adequate structures are put in place for maximal prevention of conflicts and early resolution of any matter. These efforts should be directed to ensuring that channels of communication are always open and sufficient flow of relevant information is made available to all social partners failure of which will lead to the perennial British Airways saga.
This is a worthy yet bitter lesson for all social partners.