BA Hangs Tough, But What Price Employee Engagement?

Last Updated Dec 17, 2009 11:23 AM EST

BA's fight with its cabin crews is clearly having an impact on its business performance and its value in the market, but there could also be longer term damage too.

In July, the airline was seen as the paragon of conciliation by hammering out a pay cut deal with pilots, in return for shares and asking for employees to work voluntarily for no money.

It was a daring strategy that everyone applauded.

This willingness to share the pain of recession by employees was cited as a contributory factor

in the UK economy not diving to expected lows in the autumn, but there were warnings that this goodwill might not last for too much longer.

This prediction appears to be coming true as the détente between BA management and a section of its employees has broken down.

Cabin crews at the airline have not walked out on strike since 1997, suggesting they are hardly the most militant of workforces and act only in times of dire disaffection.

Out of desperation to maintain its struggling commercial performance, BA has opted to go through the courts, rather than negotiate with workers. This is going to do nothing to repair obviously lost employee engagement, which is a shame considering the gains BA made earlier in the year.

BA may yet head off the 12-day strike over the holiday period, the timing of which has lost the union consumers' support.

But, the message it has sent out to its 42,000 employees is one of confrontation, not conciliation that probably won't be forgotten, long after this present dispute has.