I’ve been a BALPA rep for nearly 10 years. The rep who entrapped…sorry, recruited me is frequently referred to as my “other, other half” by my actual wife which probably demonstrates one of two things: either the role is extremely demanding on my time and resources; or my marriage is in a far more dubious state than I’d realised! I imagine the smart money is on it being both...
Despite or because of the above, over the years I’ve increased my commitment to BALPA, starting out as a Base Rep for easyJet in Bristol (a role I still undertake), and now act as the easyJet Company Council Secretary as well as being the Chief Editor of The Log. I view all three roles with similar sentiment – they are all fundamentally interesting and fulfilling, albeit with occasional bouts of diffidence and caliginous moodiness!
I initially became a Rep because I felt frustrated by the industrial situation in easyJet and wanted to help in some way. Unfortunately the situation hasn’t improved much but I suppose this something all pilots have to appreciate – there will always be a battle of wills between employees desperate to protect and improve their terms and conditions and management desperate to maintain the airline’s viability and profitability. Ideally of course we’d all be on the same page working faultlessly together to achieve the same target. Life, sadly, isn’t that simple.
In my opinion it is very important that pilots represent other pilots where at all possible. Whilst BALPA provides each airline with a National Officer who are, in my experience, deeply committed, patient and invaluable people, the airline pilot job is incredibly esoteric, both in the technical aspect of managing the operation of an aircraft and also the non-technical side of things such as rostering and the particular subjective issues familiar only to pilots. Without this inherent understanding of the job, an industrial representative would doubtless be far less effective and may even inadvertently misrepresent the Association’s members and interests.
On occasions the question is raised by an acquaintance why pilots need representing at all - after all, the perception of our profession outside of the industry remains nearer to that afforded to the heroic Sullenberger of Hudson River fame. Ok, so I’m hardly going to hurry away from such an aura but eventually I explain that although we’re all highly trained in flying aeroplanes, we are only human (bar the odd line trainer), making mistakes on a daily basis, and continually battling increasingly rapacious company management.
Helping members who have made mistakes or have other individual issues (the latter being much more common) requires assistance from someone who knows the job, as well as a thorough grasp of aviation and employment law. Doing ‘battle’ with management on behalf of a group of employees requires a collective body of people who are able to manage the demands and feelings of the members as a whole and withstand the more egregious efforts of those above us in the corporate food chain.
Becoming a rep is far from being a ‘calling’ but stems from a variety of interests, the power of which varies according to the individual and the situation in which one finds him or herself. Invariably there is a direct or indirect link from an event or series of events which appears to have been badly handled or resulted in an unfair outcome. It can be frustrating knowing that there must be a bigger picture but being unable to see it.
Having painted a potentially negative picture of the role, it should be made clear that there are significant upsides. Whilst the bigger picture is rarely revealed to be even remotely Hockney-esque in interest or enlightenment, it is possible to glean a broad appreciation in knowing more about one’s company or the industry as a whole. Successfully helping out a colleague in a time of trouble can be a great feeling. Contributing to a collective effort to improve terms and conditions on behalf of one’s colleagues is equally powerful. Without having this ability to vent my frustrations I’d probably kick the cat on my return home from work a great deal more than I do now. Just kidding. I don’t have a cat (ok, I do but it’s still technically a kitten…).
BALPA is only as good as its members, but is made particularly pertinent by individual members who go beyond the basic call of duty. I’d thoroughly encourage anyone thinking of taking on an extra role in their company to consider becoming a rep. You’ll rarely, if ever, regret it.