The UK holiday season has been left reeling with the Industrial Crisis at British Airways. Tens of thousands of travellers stranded at Heathrow and tens of thousands more left stranded in other countries trying to get home. More than 500 flights cancelled due to the problem and a revenue hit that is incalculable.
Empty airport
This is the third August on the trot that BA has suffered industrial dispute. But this most recent crisis is particularly interesting because it is not of BA’s own making…
Gate Gourmet, the company that supplies the BA flight food, is a company itself in financial crisis. The reason for the latest problem is that 600 of its low-paid workers walked out in protest at working conditions – the result of which was that the management tried talking to them with a loud hailer in the car park – and then promptly sacked them all!! The baggage handlers at Heathrow came out on strike in sympathy with the sacked workers (such secondary action is, of course, illegal in the UK) and BA was once more left in turmoil.
The interesting thing for me here is Connections…

Gate Gourmet do not have a particularly good record of employee/employer relations. The staff they sacked were all women, Asian, low-paid workers. Sacked in the middle of August (our prime holiday season).
Why would the baggage handlers go out on a sympathy strike? Well, Heathrow Airport, despite being the busiest airport in the world, is like a village. Most of the employees – catering, cleaners, baggage handlers, car park attendants etc – are related. So the baggage handlers were brothers, uncles, fathers and sons of the Gate Gourmet staff who were sacked.
Heathrow Airport is, in and of itself, a Connection Economy in the most profound sense of the word. To sack one low-paid Asian catering lady is to strike at the heart of a family income dependent on the airport business through all family members.
The interconnectedness of that work environnment has been seriously underestimated in the current round of negotiations with the Unions.
And, of course, the ultimate loser is British Airways who will be facing compensation claims and lost future revenue into the millions of pounds sterling.
But since this is the third year in a row when BA has had industrial action against it, surely there must be some serious questions now asked about how they, as a company, connect with employees and suppliers? It would seem that almost every company they sub-contract to is angry with them. Why do they manage to get it so wrong time and time again? Is the idea of Connection so hard to understand? When will they learn?
I should imagine that Sir Richard Branson is laughing over his breakfast cereal…

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