HC Deb 19 February 1968 vol 759 cc39-42
Mr. Lubbock (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement about the dispute between B.U.A. and B.A.L.P.A.

Mr. Gunter

Last month the management of British United Airways Limited withdrew recognition from the British Airline Pilots' Association with which it had previously negotiated on pay and conditions for pilots. A number of pilots in the company's employment have since accepted individual contracts circulated by the Company without previous consultation with the Association.

At meetings which I had with the two sides earlier this month, B.A.L.P.A. indicated its willingness to me, if recognition were restored, to give serious and sympathetic consideration to measures necessary to assist the Company at the present time. In the light of this, the Company undertook to me to give further consideration to its decision to withdraw recognition, but has since re-affirmed it.

In this situation, the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport met at the end of last week and asked me to make a further approach to the parties, but before I was able to do so, the Pilots' Association decided on Saturday, 17th February, on immediate strike action. I had meetings the same evening with representatives of the Association, the Company and also with the Chairman of the National Joint Council, but these did not result in any change in the situation. I have today invited the company and the Association to a very early joint meeting under my chairmanship.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the National Joint Council for Civil Transport, at a meeting on Friday, unanimously condemned the activities of this employer, which have included not only intimidation of the pilots but bullying and hectoring the wives of the pilots to influence their husbands into signing these independent agreements? Does he realise that trade unions in the civil aviation industry will give full support to the pilots and that, unless this deadlock is broken, there will be a complete disruption of the operations of British United Airways by this evening? Will he condemn the handling by British United Airways of this dispute and tell B.U.A. that if it does not return to the orderly negotiating procedures, as recommended by the National Joint Council, he will recommend the President of the Board of Trade to exercise his functions under Section 3(2) of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act and suspend all the company's licences?

Mr. Speaker

Supplementary questions, even on a Private Notice Question, should be reasonably brief.

Mr. Gunter

I shall not make much comment at this stage, not until I know what happens at the meeting at 4 o'clock this afternoon between the unions and B.U.A. I understand that it is to be followed by a board meeting of B.U.A. tomorrow morning. When I know what decisions have been reached, I will know how to move.

I ought to say in response to the hon. Gentleman's rather violent suggestions that I deplore the action of B.U.A. It has taken what in my experience has been the unprecedented step of withdrawing recognition from a trade union with which it has negotiated for years. If it be argued that it has done so because the demands of the union are irresponsible, my reply is that I should soon be in Broadmoor, or somewhere like it, if every employer's association did so. They were irresponsible. While the pilots may have been irresponsible, United Airways may have been unrealistic in its reply. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of recognition from a bona fide trade union is a very serious step. It makes my task almost impossible if British United Airways will not recognise the pilots. How on earth can I get them round the table to talk about it?

Mr. Rankin

Would it be true to say that the genesis of this struggle is that Mr. Bristow is seeking to destroy a system of negotiation which has been in operation for a long time, namely, the system of collective bargaining, and to substitute for it agreements privately reached between each pilot and Mr. Bristow? Does my right hon. Friend realise that if that system were accepted for the pilots, it would soon extend to every one of the 6,000 employees of B.U.A.? Ough he not to do his best to bring Mr. Bristow, the chief cause of the trouble, to his senses as quickly as possible?

Mr. Gunter

It would be unfortunate if I were drawn into a discussion of the merits and demerits of Mr. Alan Bristow.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Should not the message from the House be that commonsense should prevail in these negotiations to bring about a situation which will end the possible falling out of an organisation such as this, with appalling effects on all concerned?

Mr. Gunterindicated assent.

Mr. Dobson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is wide appreciation of his statement in the House, placing, as we think it does, the blame fairly on the employer's side? In his meetings tonight will he try to achieve with the management side, first, a recognition of B.A.L.P.A. and, secondly, the withdrawal of private agreements now being entered into so as to enable proper trade union representation to be continued?

Mr. Gunter

I could not give undertakings of any kind in negotiations of this character. There are elements in what the pilots have asked for which could be described as irresponsible, but that is no reason why their union should not be recognised. I can only emphasise that my difficulty is that until there is recognition, I do not know how the heck I can get the parties round the table.

Mr. R. Carr

I do not wish to draw the Minister into making comments on this case which may make his job this afternoon more difficult. However, would he not agree that this trouble is yet another example proving the need for a modern industrial relations law, including provisions laying down the rights of trade unions to be recognised, as is the case in almost every other modern industrial country?

Mr. Gunter

I do not know that any law would have been very helpful in this instance. We were dealing with some very funny personalities.