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January 24, 2020



Who’s looking out for you when an airline wants to change longstanding  agreements?

The latest changes to the well-established part time working arrangements (Pilot Variable Working Scheme or PVWS) recently agreed between Virgin Atlantic and BALPA will not only have a significant impact on many pilots within that airline but could herald a precedent within the industry.


Other airlines operate similar part-time working arrangements, which allow pilots a better work-life balance, provide a degree of roster stability and predictability, not to mention mitigating the effects of pilot fatigue. But with a shortage of experienced full-time pilots in the industry, airlines are re-visiting these arrangements to maximise their access to pilot flying time. 


The PPU, which was excluded from the Virgin/BALPA negotiations, has analysed the changes implemented by Virgin Atlantic and made this analysis available to all Virgin Atlantic pilots via online company forums. Inevitably our analysis found many of the changes are detrimental to VA pilots’ conditions of service and contradict much of what the company has previously promised within part-time contracts. The PPU will be making strong representations to VA over the effect they will have.


It should also be noted that during these negotiations, in an indicative ballot held amongst BALPA members, 85% voted against the proposed introduction of significantly lower pay points for new joiners. And yet the subsequent ballot for or against reintroducing PVWS contracts was conditional on accepting the new entry pay scales – along with a strong recommendation by BALPA to accept.


It is our considered view that this style of agreement – implementing changes entirely biased in the company’s favour - could well be used as a model for other airlines seeking to cut costs and diminish the levers unions have to exert pressure over lowering of pay and conditions or other issues. The changes may appear to be subtle but in practice they’re going to herald a steep decline in the terms and conditions of many VA pilots, and will likely be seen as a template for the long-haul element of the industry elsewhere.


Of particular note is a ‘new mass disruption’ clause which can not only be used to force PVWS pilots to work on their part-time days off, but also could be implemented to effectively neuter any future industrial action by any union. While industrial action is only ever contemplated when all else has failed to bring the company to the table, the PPU would never have agreed to this surrender of sanction. The right to take industrial action was hard-won by our Trade Union forebears and it is unthinkable to discard it.


Acceptance of these changes will likely be seen as a green light to other airlines, so if you’re a pilot for an airline be very wary of similar proposals. And always check the small print.