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UK Union for Pilots

Old 5th Dec 2014, 11:24
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Question UK Union for Pilots

As a potential cadet reading through these forums fills me with utter dread.

I have come from/still work in an industry which has a very strong union basis and has the workforce interests still at heart for the majority of the time.

This does not seem apparent in the aviation industry... Can anybody shed some light on this?

Why are the conditions so seemingly appalling with no intervention from a strong union? If this were put into place perhaps there would be bargaining power against companies that seem to keep offering an unfair deal.
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 11:48
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Which industry are you in and why do you think your membership is stronger and presumably more militant?
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 12:05
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It's very simple. There is no public support for pilots because the media keep printing articles based on nostalgic fantasy about what their terms and conditions are, so any industrial action would make pilots out as the bad guys. Meanwhile, airlines are run by petulant accountants with much jealousy of the image that pilots have and so make it an objective to bring them down a peg or two. Add the petty competitive nature of many pilots that prevents cohesion (my company/jet is better than yours, etc) and a weak main union that is only interested in your subscription but not in doing anything useful with it, and you have your recipe for a rapid decline.
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 12:12
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A very difficult subject to answer. It boils down to some of these facts:

- BALPA, the biggest pilot union in the UK is, historically speaking, a union that has always been more concerned with protecting the interests of long term BA pilots because, quite simply, BA pilots make up for the largest member count

- The Company Council (CC) model which is the representation model of choice within BALPA is not fit for the 21st century and works a bit like our so-called democracy where we choose local MPs who get to choose a PM who decides on an agenda nobody can vote for except his friends who are likely to agree with him anyway. The CC members invariably end up taking the role to gain management experience bringing no overall good to the system once they have departed.

- BALPA can only act on issues raised by a CC which affects employees at their particular airline. There is no concept of a collective look at things (I’m aware collective bargaining is illegal but this is not bargaining) in order to determine disturbing trends within the industry overall (maybe only in the last year or two – too late)

- BALPA have been way to slow to condemn airlines practices such as zero hour contracts and hiring cheap cadet labour when the market is full of suitable, qualified pilots. Some may argue, it’s not their place to but this single act has resulted in a supply vs demand situation that now gives airlines the upper hand when dictating terms and conditions. If a cadet can do it for half the cost, with no permanent base assignment, a 40 year old, with a mortgage to pay and kids to school can do the same …is what bean counters all over now think as a result.

- The recession and the fact that most airlines operate on profit margins of less than 5% means profit swings are huge. And just like oil prices, when the price of crude goes up, we suffer at the pumps instantly, but when it goes down (airline profits go up) we almost never share the booty.

- Finally, the UK CAA, our regulator, regulates those who pay it to be regulated unlike the FAA which in addition to being funded by those who use its services also receive massive funding by the government thereby ensuring there is never a conflict of interest.

The commercial interests of airlines (safety goes without saying) are therefore far more important than pilot careers. If you are working in the rail industry you will see that you generally belong to organisations which have a huge and substantial workforce. It’s also likely that your company can never be allowed to go bust because public services are at stake. Not the same with airlines.
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 12:39
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Two great answers above cover most issues.

Need to add in preponderance of overseas registered airlines that actively discourage/ban union membership - Ryanair.

Low Cost airlines love cadets because they cost sod all. They pay for their own training and will then work for peanuts on a zero hours contract. Displaced experienced pilots (XL/Viking/FlyBe/ThomasCook/Monarch/SilverJet/Many more) struggle to get a seat in remaining airlines unless they are prepared to have terms raped to unaffordable levels. They then have to drag their families to the middle east or worse where the money is fine but that is about all.
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 12:46
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Three brilliant posts which hit the nail right on the head
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 13:26
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The supply of pilots far outstrips the demand in the UK. For everyone one job going there are hundreds of equally matched qualified applicants. Airline bosses use this as a weapon to reduce terms and conditions and will continue to do so.

The trouble is the young people coming into the industry having been sold the "dream" by CTC or OAA who will basically accept anything that is on offer, even work for free or pay to work all on the basis that it will be stepping stone to something better, unfortunaly nothing better exists. The sad truth is, that at the point at which you leave flight school is the most employable you will ever be. And you will always have to look over your shoulder because there is a never ending stream of people prepared and qualified to do your job for a fraction of the cost.

I have been flying for 10 years, worked for several major UK travel companies and my salary is lower now that it was 10 years ago. I long ago came to the conclusion that this industry will only go in one direction until the flight schools are stopped from flooding the market with fresh young meat.

Why so many people want to get in to this industry frankly baffles me but I would guess articles in the Daily Mail claiming pilots to be the highest paid profession in the UK probably is the main reason. (CTC must have been rubbing their hands together when that was published)
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 13:58
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Daily Mail claiming pilots to be the highest paid profession in the UK probably is the main reason. (CTC must have been rubbing their hands together when that was published)
...in some countries we call that collusion but in this country it's just shoddy journalism. Amazing that.
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 14:21
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As many ppruners have already said, one side of the problem is the business build up by those factory schools, to name a few CTC and OAA. Their business model is simple. They make agreements with companies where they offer simulator time and workforce at half of the price and airlines are forced to hire only their students. Simple as that. In this way airlines can get cheaper simulator and training, while these flight schools can assure them-self a constant flow of people willing to pay for their really expensive products just because they can actually offer employment at the end. Everybody earn money and win except us. They should stop these flight schools and get back to the old days where pilots use to earn their way to the right hand seat working hard and gaining experience doing shitty flying jobs, then you will see who really wants to do this job because he/she loves it or just because mom and dad have the money to buy a glamours career to his/her son/daughter. Do you pretend that those people will fight for their T&C? No way! People who have sweat and worked hard to get there will!
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 14:23
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Another angle for the OP......

A TU can only act in defence of its members interests when the members themselves vote for the action. In the end, it is all about POWER.

If the members in, say, Monarch, have a dispute, only Monarch members affected can take any action. If, say, BALPA threatenned action by, say, BA pilots, about a Monarch dispute, the employers would be in Court sharpish, and would win.

In short, collective action is extremely limited in the UK by law. Law that has been endorsed by ALL the political parties.

Anyway, collective action in Aviation is not normally supported by the staff impacted - look at the BA CC dispute. A few hotheads, who backed down and lost due to a lack of support by BA CC, and due to other parts of the same TU - Unite - telling them to shut up and give up.
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 18:17
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Spoken like a true CTC graduate who went straight into RHS of an A320 and is now jaded at the age of 20-35. Shame eh john smith
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 18:23
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As a potential cadet reading through these forums fills me with utter dread.

I have come from/still work in an industry which has a very strong union basis and has the workforce interests still at heart for the majority of the time.

This does not seem apparent in the aviation industry... Can anybody shed some light on this?
To be harsh, and as above, it is because someone like yourself, who understands more than most how industry / unions can work, is prepared to compound the problem as a "potential cadet" i.e. despite you seeing the issues of oversupply, you are happy to add to the problem?

I cannot easily see how even an effective union could resist the consequences of such oversupply, and willingness to "pay to fly".
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 18:37
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Good luck to you then.
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Old 5th Dec 2014, 18:40
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The industry needs to scrabble its way back up to drag the lower echelon operators up to where the Thomsons the Thomas Cooks are, and until recently the Monarchs of this world were

Regulation and strong union representation are the only answers to the advantage the locos have over the decent operators. Which causes the situation whereby the locos attempt to consume all before them. Partially due the inappropriate use of cadet labour For sure Monarch are the latest big name to succumb to this effect

An added bonus would also be a fair entry mix of cadet/experienced/ex mil giving some sort of career path for a whole range of people.

With regulation and strong Unions then everything else will fall into place naturally.

The current set up, to my mind is quite obscene.

And an added point ive monitored this board for a long time now and suspect agents acting on behalf of the big schools - who appear to have an unhealthy and damaging market share or recruitment to bottom echelon jobs on the jet fleets - are in amongst the posters in here.

A closing point for consideration. After hitting the line at ezy via ctc in your mid 20s when the fatigue starts to set in and the debt is still a ling way off been paid off.... How do you see you will move on to pastures new with better conditions and terms when the "majority" of recruitment is cadet only. And your experience counts against you.

This is the reality of the situation. You have been warned.

Last edited by Three Lions; 5th Dec 2014 at 18:44. Reason: Correcting schoolboy spelling error
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Old 6th Dec 2014, 08:52
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Yup. In Europe at least, this is now a career where ones experience counts towards ones unemployability. In most industries you can leave a job with years of experience behind you for one that pays better. In this one you can expect a salary drop of 20-40k earning the same as someone 20 years younger. I've said it all along, ageism is still practiced by airlines and it happens in the form of hiring and recruitment practices which favour the young. As long as that happens this cannot be a sustainable career for someone. The illusion that it is comes about by getting a job with an airline that you want to work for forever and the list of those can be counted on half a hand.
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Old 6th Dec 2014, 09:16
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I bet your colleagues just LOVE flying with you John Smith.... How depressing....

For the OP, have a look at the BA cadet scheme. I'm 20 years in with BA, love my job, thoroughly enjoy flying with a group of motivated, enthusiastic people, and enjoy the route and type opportunities that are available in the company.

There are aspects of flying with BA that aren't great but overall the "package" is fantastic.

Just to add a contrary viewpoint to the dismal posts above...
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Old 6th Dec 2014, 09:23
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John Smith, I have a major problem with the idea we are massively overpaid. I was told by someone far wiser than myself that increased pay is a result of increased responsibility. We as Airline Pilots do not earn top wages necessarily for the skills we have, because as has been shown, most moderately intelligent people can operate an Airbus or Boeing when it's all hunky dory. Admittedly to varying levels of competence. We are paid because we are responsible for a couple if hundred lives, a couple of hundred million dollars worth of aircraft, and potentially billions of dollars worth of litigation, and when it all goes a bit wrong, bad weather, broken aircraft, that responsibility, that was always there, comes to the fore.

Unless you fly for BA or one of the major carriers, chances are your company would not survive a major hull loss that could be attributed to pilot error. So it baffles me why we consistently look to place the lowest level of experience at the lowest possible price into the cockpit.

The other often overlooked point is experience. The experienced skippers know when to ask for that shortcut, likely patterns of ATC, how best to avoid weather, when to go when not to go. They are generally just more efficient. And that's my viewpoint looking on at them as a reasonably inexperienced guy. The good ones, are in my opinion worth their weight in gold (or should be) to the airline because they just seem to make the whole operation run more smoothly, and yet we actively drive them away?

We can only up our T&C's if we stop being so self depreciating, and realise we are highly skilled professionals, with bags of responsibility. I also agree with all of the points about OAA/CTC pilot factories creating a massive oversupply. IMHO BALPA needs to start taking more of a front role on these issues, in addition to their work on Safety and other political lobbying. Too often I feel as if my union is more interested in protecting me from [email protected], than they are an accountants pen.
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Old 6th Dec 2014, 10:09
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IMHO BALPA needs to start taking more of a front role on these issues,

Which begs the question (yet again): Given the state of UK Industrial Relations Legislation how do they do that?

AO as usual hit the nail on the head a few posts back.
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Old 6th Dec 2014, 10:16
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Chocsaway 08, why oh why would you want to join this industry? I'd love to know just for my own personal knowledge. The average profit margin for all of the western world's airlines in 2012/13 was 2%: there is no money left in this occupation for the (currently) necessary evil called 'The Pilot.' I'm in the unusual position of agreeing with every post here. John_Smith, I'm also looking at a three year plan to bail out, I've had it & the good times ain't ever coming back.
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Old 6th Dec 2014, 10:29
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the media keep printing articles based on nostalgic fantasy
No – it is FACT, from the Office of National Statistics. Same as last year. Pilots are the highest paid (based on PAYE).

...of course, those who do earn substantially more than you, just dont pay as much PAYE as you ;-)

We are paid because we are responsible for a couple if hundred lives, a couple
of hundred million dollars worth of aircraft
Your are overpaid for the responsibility – look at Cruise Liner captains who are responsible for over 1000 lives and are paid a fraction of a BA captains salary.


Wise words from John_Smith. Good luck with your escape plan.
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