Critically assess the causes of the unofficial strike by British Airways Customer Service Agents in July 2003. Consider the reasons why the strike was successful.
The aim of the assessment in this module is to develop students’ understanding of issues of employment relations, in this case the changing of working patterns for employees.
The topic chosen is a very relevant one for studies of contemporary ER. It is about a strike relating to unexpected changes in working patterns for a group of employees, many of whom were women, who worked in customer services eg in check ins or ticket desks. The facts of the dispute are attached separately and involve the unilateral imposition of systems designed to automate attendance management, shift rosters, leave bookings and annual leave allocations. This led in turn to unofficial stoppages of work and the eventual abandonment of the new systems and rosters.
In writing this essay, students should be able to look at the causes of the strike and be able to critically assess why it developed in the way that it did. This would include assessment of the management actions in imposing new conditions without negotiation, the lack of notice of the changes, the nature of the workforce, the extent to which the new systems would have worsened working conditions for many of the staff. There should also be an assessment of wider issues of employment relations between British Airways management and employees.
Students should also consider the reasons why the strike was successful. This should include considerations of the unofficial nature of the strike, and the rapidity with which it took place; the nature of the airline business, which can be rapidly affected by withdrawal of labour; the nature of the workforce; the strength of union representation in the industry; and the relationship between union officials and representatives and the strike. Students should also be able to place the dispute in the wider context of employment relations in the UK, with legal constraints on strike action through ballots and notice of strikes, as well as the relatively low level of industrial action.
The essay should demonstrate a clear understanding of the facts of the dispute in its various phases. It should be able to look critically at the various reasons for the strike and its success, and to analyse the role of different actors. It should also demonstrate awareness of the wider context of levels of strike action and legal issues. It should reflect individual research by the student, with appropriate references.
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