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BALPA union or pilot club?

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BALPA union or pilot club?

Old 28th Sep 2007, 13:50
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BALPA union or pilot club?

Fellow Aviators.

I would be interested in the views of UK pilots past and present on BALPA. The question being union or pilot club.

The view I have based on 30 years in the industry is as follows:

The complaints I hear frequently about BALPA are as follows:

1. It is often said to be a BA pilot union but this is unjust as BA pilots make up less than 50% of BALPA pilots.

2. BALPA is inward and failing to deal with issues at the heart of union 'raison d'etre' such as occupational health or flight safety issues. perhaps the issue of aircraft cockpit smells and fumes and the best example of this point. On one hand the newer IPA now at 2000 members seems to be doing exactly what unions should do, fighting a serious occupational health issue and investing in research to prove exposure and members of a gloabl group tackling these matters sitting beside the TGWU (now 'Uunions unite'...?) who have equally been very outspoken on these matters and who I have been advised by a CSD friend are running legal cases against BA for crew illnesses. The TGWU are also fighting hard on these issues I am told. BALPA on the other hand I am told by a spokesperson for HQ tell me support the COT work. A surf of the net has revealed to me a paper put together by the Government which looks like it was written by a child. BALPA support a report which my friends says pilots do not have to report these smells!!! Surely a lie? The son of a fellow Hamble friend tells me BA have not done any Risk Assessments in these regards and BALPA are doing nothing. The more you dig the more interesting it gets. I am told the head of this global research group (name escapes me) is reported to be a former BALPA NEC member who set up this group of over 500,000 crews yet BALPA are absent. This makes me feel that BALPA on this front is a failing to protect our colleagues. In fact the ongoing smells at FlyBe seems to be weekly stories in the media. My cousin flew the 146 for Dan Air and he was complaining 20 years ago...this has to be BALPA' biggest failure.

3. Work Time. BALPA have tried to bring change but again have failed, work practises in many UK airlines are seriously different from the big companies like Virgin and BA and here BALPA are failing again.

4. Drug and Alcohol Policy. This has been a good sucess for BALPA and they should be commended.

5. Climate Change. This recent initiative to try and claim its not our fault is pure nonsense. BALPA should never have taken this view but workedmore to find solutions.

I have outlined a few points and would be interested in your views. But for an old timer I have to conclude that BALPA seem to always put the industry needs first even if it is at the detremint to its members health or the planet we all live on.

Many say many are only in BALPA for the insurance on that dark winters night.... A neighbour and former KLM UK pilot tells me his friends are sick (from oil fumes) and asking BALPA to help but silence and inaction is all that is happening. If we don't fight legal battles for our sick friends and former work mates, then what's the point.

BALPA I fear is no longer a union as we hoped it would be.

Gents and Ladies, what are your candid views on the matter?
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Old 28th Sep 2007, 14:12
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In response:

1) Your figures seem correct.

2) BALPA claim that they are doing something about fumes but they'll get better results by working in partnership with other agencies than by banging on the table shouting "WE DEMAND ACTION". I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt a little longer.

3) Of course work practices are different in some companies to Virgin and BA and I think it's unrealistic to expect complete consistency across the industry. BALPA have no leverage with a company except through it's members in that company. If the membership is low how exactly should they force the management to change?

4) I agree.

5) I disagree strongly. Much of the so called evidence for climate change is pure bunkum, especially the nonsense about the temperature of the USA dropping after 9/11 as aircraft were grounded. Why can't the climate change doomsayers explain why it was hot enough to grow grapes in Northern England in Roman times yet they had no aircraft, power stations or internal combustion engines? I expect my union to contest baseless claims and I also want them to give the public a reality check about the relative scale of each part of the problem. No point talking ourselves out of a job if the sacrifice is cancelled out by a new power station opening in China next week.

I really can't agree with your suggestion that BALPA puts the industry first, I just don't se any evidence of that. What I don't want is the association becoming a single issue pressure group with all our funds p*****d up the wall on frivolous lawsuits pursuing oil fumes damages which don't have a hope of succeeding. If we can draw some conclusive, irrefutable links between oil fumes and sickness then I'll be right behind the lawsuits but right now there just doesn't seem to be enough data.
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Old 28th Sep 2007, 14:23
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Oh come on, you aren't seriously trying to plug the IPA over Balpa now, are you? It certainly seems like that.

I am a member of both and feel that I am in a position to make a valid comparison. Balpa is not only much larger and stronger but have the expertise on staff to handle most situations. The IPA (or IPF if you are trying to make a real comparison) is several leagues down the list in terms of expertise, experience and clout.

If yoy want to compare them both along the lines of union or pilot club, then the IPA certainly fits the latter much better than Balpa. I would assess the IPA more of a junior pilots club which helps them feel better about trying to find their first jobs.

Balpa has many study groups that have a real effect on the industry. They are more often than not invited to the many conferences and working groups when new procedures or systems and technology are introduced. They have sway in the industry and operate to a high standard of prosecution.

We often see the impatient but ignorant rants on here from people who have little understanding of how things actually work in the industry and in politics. They expect quick, simple fixes to complex and intricate problems. typical knee jerk reactions but like the old RR Spey egines (an old Trident pilot would know about those) are 90% noise and 10% thrust.

To throw the old adage that most pilots are in Balpa just for the legal insurance protection shows the typical ignorance of most non or anti-Balpa noisemakers and assumes an equally ignorant approach to union or association recognition. Most of us who are in Balpa will have researched the benefits of being in the union and concluded that there is far more to it than the usual IPA rhetoric that their legal cover is on a par with that of Balpa's.

The only thing that the IPA have managed to do is split the brotherhood of pilots and give management a neat wedge to drive into any aspiring pilot groups with a divide and conquer strategy. You onky have to look at the debates on here from Jet2 pilots who are in dire need of proper recognition. Amateurs pining for serious recognition getting shafted left, right and centre by their management through joint workers councils. There are other companies that have unilaterally recognised the IPA as the official union and you only have to look at the lifestyles and remuneration standards in those companies and compare them to the ones where Balpa is recognised as the prime representative union for the pilots. It is like comparing chalk and cheese when you compare the standards.

There is much more but I won't waste any more time. To answer the question, "is Balpa a union or pilot club?" the answer is neither. It is an association of British airline pilots which has been growing steadily for many, many years and has some political lobbying power, working study groups that look out for our interests and enough professional expertise on staff to assist the many Company Councils in their day to day work protecting our lifestyles and renumeration.
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Old 28th Sep 2007, 16:47
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British Airways Line Pilots Association
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Old 28th Sep 2007, 17:10
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As an unenthusiastic member of many years I can say that it is probably only that 'dark winter night' scenario that keeps me in the 'Union'. The perception remains - however invalid - that it is very much concerned primarily with BA. Furthermore, its assistance when needed is not guaranteed and will depend upon its own view of events rather than any undertaking to assist members even in seemingly impossible circumstances. Until, however, a really worthwhile alternative exists that can achieve recognition by employers, the Association will retain its pre-eminence.

Union or professional 'Association' - now thats another story completely !
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Old 29th Sep 2007, 09:49
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I have never understood why pilots do not consider joining a big union like the TGWU. Is it considered to "working class" ?
BALPA did well for the Dan Air staff, and have been vocal in their opposition to self sponsored type ratings haven't they?
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Old 29th Sep 2007, 10:54
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BALPA is not perfect but then who is!
Their stance on the ridiculous security we as crew have to endure annoys me as they make great claims as to what they have done on their site. When the reality is they have done very little other than write a few cosy letters to the authorities. When they should be holding them by the balls and telling them that their members will not put up with it any longer.

But in their defence they have much improved things where I work and I can honestly say I have very little to moan about because of their efforts.
They have also taken on and won concessions from the tax man which I or anyone else could not have done as an individual.

They are also the only show in town when it comes to that dark horrible place due to their worldwide connections and legal eagles that know aviation law.

As for the TGWU Iím sure they are very good and use to be a member years ago when I was in engineering. But feel they would be somewhat lost in the world of aviation due to no other reason than it is not their sphere of expertise.
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Old 29th Sep 2007, 12:58
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Regarding their stance on security, perhaps you have't read this: BALPA SECURES NEW BAGS PROTOCOL

Just one more little thing that helps us but goes relatively unnoticed. Staements like "grabbing them by the balls" don't really help and deep down you know that these things take time and a lot of work behind the scenes to achieve.

So, please, let's have a bit more common sense and realistic objectives based on a proper understanding of how the world really works. Leave the knee jerks for the gym.
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Old 30th Sep 2007, 18:55
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Ok hadnít seen that but canít say it makes much odds as the liquid rules remain so unless I want to loose the contents of my bath bag I will have to continue to check bag.

All the inconsistencies still remain i.e. can take case through at certain southern UK base to go in hold yet at others you are not allowed which is costing companies a lot of money to send crew bags down conveyor belt on positioning flights.

Knee jerk I think not this has now been ongoing for enough time for the authorities to come to their senses but they seem to choose not to listen. So please tell me how to approach a body that will not listen other than by using our collective power to make them listen?
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Old 3rd Oct 2007, 17:22
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Capt Tim Bamber

I think BALPA has failed its members on fatigue, flight time and now air fumes, in other areas it has been average.

I have been reading about the air fumes and wondered who the Captain Tim Bamber who is quoted as speaking for BALPA is. Sometimes he is listed as a dentist and sometimes as a Captain. Are there 2 Tim bambers?

Is the Captain Tim bamber the same as the Dentist Tim Bamber who was done for false records by the dental board? Is this person an employee of BALPA or a BA pilot or what?
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Old 3rd Oct 2007, 17:45
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Sounds like the sort of question that you would like to get your teeth into!
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Old 3rd Oct 2007, 17:47
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I can not understand why it is that BALPA as a Union charges 1% before tax of a pilots salary as opposed to charging a flat rate subscription. It seems to me to be a licence to print money.
It would also seem to me that if you want promotion in a BALPA recognised company then you need to put your name forward for a BALPA post election. Shortly after you have been elected into your BALPA position, you will be offered a managment post in the company you are working for.
1% of an average salary for someone just starting out on a 40 year career works out at around £40,000 over the career asuming an average salary of £100,000 pa over the next 40 years.
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Old 3rd Oct 2007, 18:08
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Except Blackball, there are few pilots who will average £100k over the 40yrs of a career (sounds like simon calder all over again) and a significant portion of the 1% you speak of, qualifies for a tax refund..if you claim for it.
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Old 6th Oct 2007, 17:21
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Maybe the said "individuals" might think that given BALPAs proclivity for navel gazing and seemingly little else, that 1% is on the steep side.
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Old 3rd Nov 2007, 23:04
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morally vapid individuals who navel gaze while undergoing a tim bamber prophylaxis should not be docked 1% tax refund or not
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Old 4th Nov 2007, 15:59
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What??? 'BALPA did well for the DanAir staff' - not on my planet they didn't. Five year of paying my dues and I got shafted by them. And many others along with me. Yes it was a long time ago - fifteen years any day now - but some things you don't forget and forgive.
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Old 5th Nov 2007, 05:52
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It is often said to be a BA pilot union but this is unjust as BA pilots make up less than 50% of BALPA pilots.
There's a red herring if ever there was! The majority of pilots join BALPA for the legal protection. This means that the spread of membership is not based upon how well some pilots think they'll be represented, but is largely due to the "insurance" against individual, illegal victimisation.

The fact is that BALPA has a proven history of fighting well for the interests of BA pilots, but has an equally proven history of frequent, miserable failure when representing pilots in other companies. There are success stories (and no doubt some will respond by describing them as "evidence" in support of a counter argument), but they are few and far between when compared to BA success stories.

BALPA can only be as strong and the sum total of the members who support the association. Easy to criticise, harder to fight.

Without support it is a tiger without teeth. Like all professional bodies it relies on its members to give it strength and enable it to succeed.
I tire of hearing this cop out! It must be part of the indoctrination process for new CC members, based upon the number of them who've quoted it to me, almost word for word.

The evidence clearly indicates no shortfall of pilot sentiment and agression. Time and time and time again there have been clear cut votes by pilot workforces in favour of action. Time and time and time again BALPA has weakened and backed out of supporting any action!

Unless you're a BA pilot. BALPA is your union and you know it!

Stop blaming the pilot workforces for BALPA weakness!
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Old 5th Nov 2007, 12:01
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How exactly do you expect BALPA to fight for a workforce if they've not got the balls to do anything about it? The head office team are always there to provide support and legal advice to individual company councils, but it's down to the company council, ie your colleagues, to do something. BALPA are not some knight on a white stallion who rides to the rescue and fixes all problems. BALPA are the company council in each employer who have to engage with the management. If you vote in muppets then you'll get poor results. BALPA works well in BA because the BA company council are very effective. I've seen company councils who've shot themselves in the foot with both barrels with ridiculous demands and gotten no improvements. The results you get depend on how good the leadership is within your company. The same head office team that gets results for BA, Easy, Britannia is the same head office team that doesn't get results for others.
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Old 5th Nov 2007, 12:06
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Ask the Monarch pilots about \BALPA. They won a pretty good deal, led by a good CC, ably supported by big BALPA. No union is perfect, BALPA is better than most.
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Old 8th Nov 2007, 07:31
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I think I am pretty well qualified to comment on this having spent several years on a CC. I have also recently been forced to resign from my job and seek redress for constructive dismissal.
So I have seen Balpa from its inner workings out.
Put at its most simplistic, Balpa is grossly under resourced and as a result has to be highly selective about where it spends money. Recent accounts show gross revenues of circa £4m and legal budgets of less than £250K (for circa 10000 members!!).
My experience as an individual member needing help were very unsatisfactory. The impression I was left with was a well oiled operation trying to give the semblance of support but in reality offering nothing of any use. The legal support was well below par and, although my case was referred to lawyers for an opinion, Balpa's chosen specialists became experts on my case without any meeting with me or returning any of my phone calls. The filtering process is such that if these "specialists" advise the non qualified guy in Balpa that there is a less than fifty percent chance of success then Balpa does the Pontius Pilate thing and washes its hands.......
Having experienced this I retained my own advisers out of my own pocket and have just secured a very satisfactory settlement..........absolutely no thanks to Balpa.
So..........if you join Balpa expecting the best legal support if you need it, fgorget it! Your own household insurers probably provide better cover by referring you to specialists without precondition if you tick the "legal cover" box,.......really.
As a political lobbying organisation then Balpa are pretty sound. The general secretary and MG himself read and interview well and both like to wander the corridors of power talking to politicians and important people. I know for a fact that the Gen Sec was surprised at how appalling much airline mangement was when he joined the union a few years ago and that his expectations of something more akin to a gentlemens club were not met.
We were absolutely disgusted when one of thefirst major actions taken under the new stewardship was a high profile and expensive campaign to raise the threshold of pension pots to closer to two million than one million. This caused enormous offence to many of us particularly those working for scabby shorthaul operations where retirment with pensions of £10K a year was not unheard of. Nothing has been done on a similar level to address the very real issue of poverty in retirment of a lot of members and would be members.
This issue certainly gave oxygen to the view that Balpa was more at home taking on issues of greatest interest to BA members and their fortunate kinfolk.
There was then of course the Harmer case!!.....Need I say more except to wonder at why such resources and prioritisation were afforded (clearly at the expense of less glamorous grass roots needs)? High profile, attention grabbing, politically correct.......yes. But why was such attention given to a single member when this case has single handedly done more to destroy the careers of would be women pilots than anything else recently? Mad!

On a company council basis, the quality of support is totaly determined by who is your Principal Negotiator. There is at least one who is tireless, gifted, proactive and brilliant..........most of the others are thoroughly average. Above all, they are all grossly overworked and there are not enough of them.
So, overall, it is probably sensible to be a member on the basis of some element of security provided by collective representation, but dont delude yourself that Balpa will be there for you when the chips are down. Your lottery of support will be determined by many factors other than your own interests and, not least, by the resources of an impoverished and under resourced union.

Last edited by Tinytim; 8th Nov 2007 at 08:44.
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