As if working on an airplane -- whether serving drinks, flying the plane or fixing it, among other jobs -- wasn't hard enough, now British Airways is urging its staff to work for free to help the company save money.

British Airways chief Willie Walsh says he won't take a salary for the month of July, and is urging others to work for blocks of time without being paid, according to an Associated Press story.

"I am looking for every single part of the company to take part in some way in this cash-effective way of helping the company's survival plan. It really counts," Walsh said in a company publication.
I used to work in an industry that was losing money -- newspapers -- and I was laid off before furloughs and other money-saving methods were instituted. Many workers in that industry are expected to work overtime without pay, especially early in their careers.

But beyond a furlough, where in California some state employees can't even schedule the mandatory time off, I think it's amazing that the top executive of a major airline can "urge" his workers to work for free.

In an industry that is trying to end low fares, which may lead to fewer bookings, I don't see how an airline can get away with asking its workers to work for free during a stretch of time. Aren't airline employees -- who have your safety in their hands -- people who you want to be well paid and attentive while on the job?

While they're professionals, I expect that any time spent working without pay could lead to lapses or not caring as much about the work they do. Think about it. If your boss asked you to work for free, how much effort would you put into your work during that time? Would you go the extra mile?

It amounts to a pay cut for BA employees who go with the option. BA has said that the lost income would be spread out over several months.

No matter how it's described -- as a pay cut or working for free -- the airline's employees will still be working the same amount of hours for less pay.

That option may be fine for highly-paid British Airways executives trying to help make up a $595 million loss in the year ending March 31, but for the everyday worker, it's something they can't afford.

Before British Airways workers start trying to figure out how to deal with a pay cut, you may want to consider tipping your flight attendant, pilot and mechanic before taking off. The skycaps should be able to break a large bill into some change for you.

The free work won't start until July 1, because BA workers have until June 24 to decide if they'll work for free during part of July. So you have a few more weeks before deciding if you want to brave the now rather more disgruntled skies.

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