Friday, November 24, 2006

British Airways should have stood firm

As someone who flies BA as frequently as I can, at least until Willie Walsh's penny pinching ruins it, I have been following the Nadia Eweida story on and off. Ms Eweida is a BA check in agent at London Heathrow with seven years service. She was wearing a visible cross in breach of BA's uniform policy for employees dealing directly with the public. The existing protocol is that all jewellery or religious symbols which can practicably be worn concealed, should be concealed. An offer of a back office job was made (and rejected) which would have allowed Ms Eweida to wear the cross externally.

Exceptions are made for employees for whom the wearing of items is a mandatory requirement of their faith, e.g. Sikh turbans or bangles and subject to health and safety requirements in respect of machinery such as luggage belts. While BA is being hammered for this, other British based airlines such as Virgin and BMI have a similar policy.

Ms Eweida did not demonstrate that wearing a crucifix was a mandatory rather than merely a desirable part of her faith and thus her defence to internal discipline failed. Nonetheless following a quick campaign including intervention by Dr John Sentamu, the Anglican Archbishop of York, BA have announced an impending retreat from their policy - not least once the Archbishop of Canterbury made a thinly veiled hint about Anglican Church Commissioner disinvesting funds from the airline.

I believe they should not have done so, however BA's internal human resources management are execrable, as demonstrated by their inept handling of the Jessica Starmer case, so it was almost inevitable that they should end up retreating.

If Ms Eweida had sought to wear a personal item of faith in a manner which assisted her frame of mind in what is undoubtedly a stressful position. This however was not all of her motivation, but rather this:
"Jesus has to be glorified" ... "I am not politically motivated or minded, I just follow the Biblical truth." ... "Only Christians are forbidden to express their faith." ... "It is important to wear it to express my faith so that other people will know that Jesus loves them." (my emphasis)
Not only is her intent to advertise her religion to the people at her check-in desk, a charge which could be levelled at the aforementioned wearers of turbans but to encourage her customers to discuss it with her. This is the bit that causes the problem for BA and for me as one of their customers - that already overstressed passengers, having stood in Heathrow's legendary queues (or indeed Pearson Terminal 3's), would have their blood pressure raised further by the god-bothering going on in front of them when they get to the head of said queue. Anyone who thinks that's implausible has either not flown recently or uses internet check-in.

To wear a symbol as a sign of faith is a redundancy - as Austen Ivereigh put it in the Telegraph:
"The true Christian witness is the love you show people that makes people wonder where you got that from, and you can tell them," he said. "The crucifix has become a fashion item worn by rap artists."
Post a Comment