Why the Easyjet pay dispute matters

The Easyjet dispute highlights important lessons for building better businesses and a fairer society


Easyjet cabin crew are to vote over the coming month on potential strike action this August.

Their dispute over the company’s offer of a small pay increase highlights some important lessons for building better businesses and a better society.

Firstly, that Unions have a vital role to play in addressing low pay and the gaping income gap between those at the top and everybody else.

These are problems that everybody wants to solve.

However the left might caricature the Tories, they’re not sitting in castles chuckling about inequality. Prior to the election David Cameron exhorted businesses to give their staff a payrise. Boris Johnson said this week that the top rate of tax should not come down without a significant increase in the minimum wage. He’s previously stated that we need to shake ‘the cornflake packet’ to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get to the top, and has fulminated against the ‘extraordinary’ growth in income differences within British companies.

The problem is that merely talking about these issues – usually alongside implausibly optimistic platitudes about the role of education making things better in the future – will not improve the current pay and conditions of ordinary workers or achieve a fairer balance of incomes between those at the top and everybody else.

What is really needed – and even the International Monetary Fund and Hedge Fund billionaires recognise/fear this – is an empowered workforce, with trade union representation giving them the capability to secure a better deal for themselves, rather than hoping for a hand-out from their employers inspired by politicians speeches.

Easyjet workers are showing how workers can fight for a better deal; but it happens too rarely in Britain, where we have amongst the lowest level of collective bargaining coverage and worker participation in company decision-making in Europe.

The second lesson from the Easyjet dispute relates to excessive executive pay, and how it does companies no favours whatsoever. Research for the High Pay Centre found that industrial conflicts are more common in workplaces with bigger pay gaps. Easyjet CEO Carolyn McCall was paid £7.7 million last year, more than 150 times the average Easyjet employee. According to Unite the Union, many cabin crew staff get little over £10,000 as their basic salary and are reliant on bonuses and commission to top up their total pay package.

Mccall’s pay was cited by the Easyjet Union when rejecting the company’s pay offer, just as ITV staff brought up CEO Adam Crozier’s £8 million pay package when balloting for industrial action last year. It’s no wonder that this kind of different treatment for people who are working for the same company and contributing to its success proves irksome, increasing the likelihood of industrial conflict.

Easyjet has, of course, been successful, with pre-tax profits of over £500 million last year. But it’s legitimate to question the value of such successes to the wider economy, when a tiny number of people grab a disproportionate share of the rewards.

Luke Hildyard is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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42 Responses to “Why the Easyjet pay dispute matters”

  1. stevep

    Of course we need empowered Trades Unions.
    Society doesn’t just consist of the wealthy few at the top of the heap, there are millions who`s only hope of a decent standard of living is collective bargaining.
    With the neutering of Unions in the UK, collective bargaining has become ineffective and society has become imbalanced.
    Unions give a voice to millions of working people, they give them a chance to democratically influence their working lives.
    Good employers welcome and encourage unions, they understand that a dialogue between employer and employee is necessary and beneficial to the health of the company.
    So let`s have a bonfire of unfair union laws and restrictions and return to more democratic and balanced industrial relations.

  2. Jacko

    Do you remember the glory days of the trades unions in the 1970s? You couldn’t turn the lights on or boil a kettle because the miners were on strike. You couldn’t turn the TV on because the TV technicians were on strike. You couldn’t bury the dead because the undertakers were on strike. The army had to man green-goddess fire engines because the fire brigade was on strike. No trains -drivers were on strike. Rubbish piled up in the street -refuse collectors on strike. On and on and on. Democratic and balanced industrial relations -trade union style.

  3. engine85

    Awesome, another strike from the lefties, IF they strike, then i will never fly easyjet again, they can join the queue for the ‘dole’ as they’ll have no customers left. Striking during peak times only hurts customers not the company, a strike hurts the company at any times. so this is nothing more than a stab in the back for the customer.

  4. Cole

    Blimey, you do exaggerate. We’re you actually around then?

  5. employee

    Striking during peak times does hurt the company, or else unions wouldn’t do it. It reduces forward bookings and the passengers must be compensated as well as refunded for cancelled flights.

    I don’t support industrial action in cases when companies have to make cutbacks to survive, however easyJet made £500m profit last year. It’s not as if they’re on the brink of going under, so they can easily afford a decent pay rise for the cabin crew. They just don’t want to be seen as generous in the eyes of “the City”, as share price is everything these days!

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