The Real Lesson of the Heathrow Humiliation
Dejevsky, Mary, The Independent (London, England)
The Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, deftly evaded public association with the Terminal 5 disaster yesterday by dispatching her aviation minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, to the Commons to face the music. To an almost empty House - perhaps MPs, like so many others, were stuck at their weekend destinations, sans toothbrush, sans clothes, sans nearly everything - the hapless minister revealed that the latest tally of "stored" luggage was now 28,000 pieces, and expressed fervent hope that British Airways and the British Airports Authority would learn lessons from the debacle. But not, of course, before they had sorted it all out.
To which, I am sure, we can all say "hear, hear". Without presuming to conclude what those lessons might be, however, I will hazard that one will concern staff training. Of the many complaints voiced by employees and passengers alike, lack of preparation for the big day loomed large. From a shortage of parking space through tardy security vetting, to the screens and conveyor belts that no one knew how to work, the impression was that senior managers had banked, quite unrealistically, on it all coming together on the relevant morning.
The operational staff need not be let off the hook completely. As some of the shop workers pointed out, they got into work on time, so how come the baggage handlers and check-in staff found it so hard? Did they actually take up the training provided? Some of the baggage- handlers may well have been fathers, brothers, sons etc. of the women made redundant by BA's catering contractor, Gate Gourmet, in 2005. There was a stroppiness underlying the self-justification that suggested less than total dedication to the greater glory of T5.
That said, both BA and BAA have chequered records as employers and, regrettably, they are not unique among British companies. Even where there is a willingness to invest in spectacular new buildings or hi-tech infrastructure, nothing like the same investment seems to be made in employees.
One part of the explanation - the smaller part - may be the availability of trained, or trainable, labour from elsewhere: Jamaican and Filipina nurses; textile workers from Bangladesh; doctors from India and Pakistan. The recent influx of Central Europeans, many of them skilled or highly educated, has been a boon for business, if not for less well-educated Britons competing for the same jobs. …