Tuesday, 3 February 2009

As useless as the ....

This common epithet enjoys a number of conclusions, mostly ribald and unrepeatable in polite society like this. However, as a result of recent meetings attended by members of the ABAP committee, a new and most apposite conclusion is available to BA pensioners - “As useless as the unelected Liaison Committee”.

This body claims to represent the interests of BA pensioners. It does nothing of the sort.

It cannot. Not only does it not attempt to do the excellent social work of the Retired Staff Association, but it is unelected and imposed on us by British Airways. The appointment of the unelected Chairperson, Mrs Sigrid Mapp, who, speaking on the record (literally) at the ABAP AGM introduced herself as “German, and proud of it”, and the remainder of the lap-dogs, is overseen by a BA gauleiter, named recently as Julie Peters.

Julie Peters is a remarkable lady. Before I knew her name I described her as a BA Manager. Capt Chris Hodgkinson of the unelected Liaison Council rushed to correct me - and I will always admit my errors of fact - stating that she is nothing more than a “clerical assistant”. Clerical Assistants have obviously come on a lot since my days in BA because Ms Peters is charged with ensuring that, in selecting people for admission to the body, the unelected Liaison Council observes all the laws and regulations governing such appointments. Either the laws and regulations are contained on the inside flap of a book of matches or Ms Peters is some remarkable clerical assistant.

This is, of course, a charade. Ms Peters, directly or via her BA handler, is there to ensure that only people agreeable to British Airways are allowed to be selected.

In fact, the unelected Liaison Council already goes a long way to meet those requirements itself. As a long-re-selected member, the unctuous Robert James, described it in Touchdown last year, the existing members vet each self-nominee to ensure (as he so precisely described it) “minimum standards” are maintained.

Call me old-fashioned but I would have thought that the only standard a body representing BA pensioners needed was that its members were BA pensioners. Was this the way Mr James acted when he was employed? Can someone who knew him then tell us? And why is there such a preponderance of former Trade Union reps on it?

Ironically it wasn’t always so. The appointment system only came in six or so years ago because so few people cared about the non-work of the Council that they didn’t bother to vote. Now the unelected Liaison Councillors behave more despicably than a seedy private members’ club. In last Autumn’s Touchdown the unctuous Robert James announced that “The Selection Panel (ie themselves) have re-appointed the four retiring members, (Allam, Jukes, Larkin and Mapp) for another three years”.


I always have to be careful talking about Germans because two of my great-uncles were blown to bits by German soldiers during WW1 and a Belgian relative was murdered by the Gestapo in 1942, all of which can leave one a bit biased.

So I defer to an expert. Prof Ervin Staub of the University of Massachusetts described a trait amongst all Germans, evident, he says, since at least the 18th Century, of a national instinct to respect authority unswervingly. Certainly our "Proud German", Mrs Mapp conforms to Professor Staub's description by her unflinching obeisance to her masters in BA. As you will see, under her leadership, the unelected, self-important toads simply comply with the wishes of British Airways. She even put her name to Walsh's despicable suggestion that our pensions were at risk if we didn't agree to the demolishing of Sipson for the convenience of London Airways.

So who are these paragons of wisdom and enlightenment, unelected Councillors who care so much about your interests?

According to Touchdown, as well as Frau Mapp they are Mike Potter, Terry Jukes, Nigel Allam, David Larkin, Harry Heap, Robert James, Tony Flowers, Win Thompson, Christopher Hodgkinson and Stuart Scott - names to be remembered.

And what do these recipients of the BA Christmas sandwich actually do? Do they seek out ways that pensioners’ lives can be improved? Do they initiate ideas for “forging a close relationship with pensioners”? Does their adherence to “minimum standards” enable them to present their masters with new ways for BA to recognise the part pensioners played in growing BA?

As they say in Manchester, “do they heck as like”. The answer to all those questions is a big fat NO.

Says who? Actually the unelected members of the Liaison Council said so. In recent talks with ABAP, they admitted that they do nothing except act as a Post Office and Filtration plant, passing on to British Airways those concerns raised by pensioners that they deem appropriate to bother the airline with.

Many people would agree that if Clare Hatchwell, Hilary Brayfield and all the other BA factotums had the courtesy to answer their emails and letters, we wouldn’t need a Post Office and that in its role of Filtration plant the unelected Liaison Council seems to have trapped all the muck already.

Whilst some pensioners enjoy the social activities organised by the RSA, the fact is that there only two things which concern every pensioner, their pension - which is always the most important - and their staff travel - which has less importance as time passes and the thrill of standing by for two days or more whilst newly-appointed staff and their six-monthly partners are boarded loses its appeal.

What has the Liaison Council done to improve those things which matter to all of us?

In 1990 (not long after its inauguration) ABAP took BA (who wanted to mess with the pension fund to its benefit and your detriment) to the High Court and won. If you want to read the detail the relevant Newsbrief is available on the ABAP website. Why did the then-elected Liaison Council not act to defend our pensions at that time? Did the people who forged ABAP do it because they needed a break from gardening or the golf course? No, they organised themselves because even in 1990 the Liaison Council was a supine, fawning rabble of BA loyalists preaching loudly “my airline, right or wrong” - ignoring the fact that Carl Schurz actually said “My country, right or wrong, if right to be kept right, if wrong to be set right.”.

Since then and through various legal fights, ABAP has become de facto the pensioner’s negotiator with BA Pensions. The unelected Liaison Council is briefed by BA Pensions occasionally and no doubt the assembled great minds mumble their assent and approval and pass the Lincoln Creams round again.

So, if they’ve abrogated any responsibility for our pensions what about their valiant defence of the other thing which concerns pensioners, Staff Travel?

Well, we all know the answer to that. To do their best to protect and retain the Staff Travel pensioners were told and thought they were going to get in their twilight years, the brave , principled members of the unelected Liaison Council sat down round BA’s table, took BA’s pens and signed their names to an agreement which bound them to secrecy - specifically agreeing not to discuss Staff Travel with the very people whose interests they were supposed to be defending!

Unfortunately pensioners have no remedy. What most people would like to do, vote the entire kennel of BA poodles out, can’t be done because they can go on re-appointing themselves until Hell freezes over.

Just for a moment, imagine what would have happened had that team of unprincipled time-servers led by the proud German, Sigrid Mapp, hadn’t been so ready to scribble their names? If they’d had the guts or the moral decency to tell BA where to shove their infamous Confidentiality Agreement, BA couldn’t have persisted with the fiction that “pensioners’ representatives have agreed”.

But these are the people who’ve been cozying up to ABAP recently - and be quite clear, these meetings have been called for by the unelected Liaison Council, not ABAP. Why?

The fact is that are beginning to realise they don’t have a job to do. As I said at the beginning, they’re as useless as ...

Could this be the reason that they’ve been trying to get involved with the Pensioner Contacts? Almost universally Pensioner Contacts do a splendid, and often forgotten job looking after their areas much as old fashioned vicars used to fulfill their social responsibilities to their parishioners. Almost all PCs are also supportive of ABAP's Staff Travel Campaign - support for which we are most grateful.

So why is the Liaison Council trying to muscle in on PCs with unelected LC members like Nigel Allam doing his very best to find any reason for the incumbent Organisers to be dismissed? His latest ploy is that unless you have a computer you can’t be doing the job properly. Why is a quarter page of valuable Touchdown space is given over to the LC’s pathetic attempt to be the PC focus? Could this be why they’ve been trying to garner influence with the Overseas Pensioner Contacts? One or two like Mike Austin, Plenipotentiary for half of Cyprus and his sidekick - who is so ashamed of his/her part they will only be known as “the Oracle” - has congratulated the unelected Liaison Council on agreeing to ST09, without appearing to give a tuppenny damn about those pensioners who are neither fortunate enough to live in Cyprus nor able to take a standby trip there now.

On every count and by every measure the unelected Liaison Council has failed.

Sadly although ABAP’s constitution claims it speaks for all pensioners, in reality its principle focus is those who receive a pension under APS and NAPS. Yet, as the recent Staff Travel Campaign Working Group (established under the aegis of ABAP and with the sometimes reluctant endorsement of its Committee) showed, its objectives are supported by pensioners all over the world. Hundreds of Canadians, scores of Americans, most of whom earned much less attractive pension deals from BA and its forebears, sent in their contributions and voiced their support for ABAP. Why? Because they have no other voice - the unelected Liaison Council simply won’t stand up for them.

So what can be done?

This site will campaign to publicise the misdeeds and general uselessness of the unelected Liaison Council until either the airline throws out all the fawning toads and makes it a truly representative body to which access is only by democratic election again (a much less expensive process now they have the Internet), or BA concedes that its concern for pensioners is a complete sham and closes it down for ever.

Or maybe ABAP can be persuaded to take over the Liaison Council’s responsibilities? BA wouldn’t have such an easy ride and even the most BA-compliant ABAP Committee member would be unable to sign a Confidentiality Agreement. For their part pensioners all over the world would find themselves with a champion not afraid to stand up to the BA bullies, a body prepared to be proactive and initiate activities in the pensioners’ interests and, above all, an Association led by a democratically elected Committee.

Until that, or something like it, happens the gutless members of the unelected Liaison Council remain as irrelevant and as unnecessary as His Holiness’s body parts and we shall go on saying so.

By the way, some years ago and with the best of intentions, the Chairman of ABAP, Dayne Markham, applied to become a member of the unelected Liaison Council. He was rejected. They never tell you why, but after all, they do have to maintain “minimum standards”.

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