I've been a tad quiet for some time now... and here’s why.
84 days ago I received an email that many of my friends at other airlines had already received. That very email was, of course, advance notice of an intention for redundancy discussions between BALPA (union) and my employer. The headline figure would see over 700 pilots depart our UK workforce, a significant percentage!
What followed that email was a rollercoaster of emotion to say the least. I’ve been on quite a mental journey of stress, concern about finances (especially given the money borrowed to become a pilot in the first place) and general sadness. Flying was what I’d always dreamt of doing and despite the silly alarm clocks and long days I truly couldn't see myself doing anything else. The entire redundancy consultation process leaves you feeling numb with grief and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! I’m not saying it’s true grief as such but you grieve the potential for losing your job. You panic and crunch the numbers to check life affordability without your income and, quite simply, you just don’t want to believe you’re going through the process at all. I tried to ignore it and get on with life but it's near impossible and it's the cause of quite a few sleepless nights. Throughout the consultation you also treat each flight like it might be your last. I ended up running so many ‘what if’ scenarios through my head that I became my own worst enemy.
Aside from the mental impact of redundancy talks if there’s one thing this process has shown me it is the power given to a union when backed by a united workforce. I honestly take my hat off to the company council representing me and my colleagues as they have worked their backsides off holding the interests of the membership in mind as they pushed for a resolution to reduce that total headcount figure. If I fast-forward and skip out a lot of the detail, the union negotiated with the company to negate the requirement for mass redundancies in the UK workforce. This was achieved through the widespread uptake of part-time contracts. With dampened demand for travel comes a reduction in daily flight numbers and with that a significant reduction in the number of crew needed. By going part-time we all managed to keep our jobs, and help the company save money on payroll etc in the meantime.
To get that final email to say I was safe lifted all of the weight from my shoulders I had been carrying over the past couple of months. There was more certainty in life now and I could plan for the future. That future does now mean that I need to take on a second job, given I'm now a 50% part-time pilot earning approx 50% less pay per annum, and also seek a flatmate to share my flat with, but i'd certainly prefer the requirement for both of those than lose the job altogether.
While the news is positive for my colleagues and I and am relieved to be keeping my job, I also feel great sadness and empathy for some of my friends from flight school. Regrettably despite the best efforts of union/airline negotiators at several other airlines across Europe there have been unavoidable job losses as airlines look to restructure to save costs and aim to survive the bleak landscape ahead of us. At a time the industry is on it's knees I wish those I know at other airlines who sadly put their dreams on hold the best of luck. You will be back in the skies before long I am sure -- I hope anyway!!
Just to be clear though, while my own job is safe it does not preclude my airline from making further cuts should the aviation environment not recover. It's a really bad world out there right now as far as the travel and tourism sectors are concerned. Health is important but in the fight to delay the global spread of COVID-19 the industry so many of us love has been changed overnight. Airlines once in the green find themselves haemorrhaging cash and only those counting the beans know truly how long this can go on for. Where is the British government's supporting in all of this? Well... who knows. Some say they want to see the demise of the aviation sector to meet their Carbon Emission goals, but hey... let's not make this political.
All in all the result of the negotiation at my airline is a great result and I’m sure many of my colleagues will have cracked open a bottle in celebration of retaining their jobs. What makes this all the more amazing though is we collectively managed to create opportunities for those pilots in closing bases too! Several pilots took massive hits to their income so to save others. My own sacrifice was to the tune of £22,000, but it's the true selflessness of my fellow pilots that is ultimately the most remarkable. Those more senior to me need not have taken part-time at all, but they did. They did it not only to save themselves but to save those who joined the company after they did too. I am proud of what we all achieved as a collective group and the result should be seen as a true testament to industrial relations between an airline and its crew members. In my opinion a precedent has been set here and should be used as a blue print for future negotiations. Corporations can, when they have a desire, work with their employees instead of against them and I am pleased to see my employer was willing to do just that on this occasion.
Now to end this blog post, let’s all hope that COVID decides to pack up and leave, that governments around the world ease quarantines and that 2021 sees the return of full aircraft once again, because, if it does not I am uncertain how much longer the airlines we know will be around. Book those holidays folks — the sun is waiting for you just around the corner — and the travel and tourism sectors need all the help they can get.