A former British Airways steward claimed he was unfairly dismissed after criticising a payout from the airline to colleagues who were allegedly targeted by the carrier in a spying operation.
Aidan Duffy, 51, told an employment tribunal that the money, believed to be £1 million, was paid to prevent the Unite union suing BA over “email hacking, harassment, data breaches and victimisation”.
Duffy said he was harassed by union officials he had accused of a conflict of interest over the settlement before he was dismissed by the airline.
He suggested that BA and the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa), a branch of Unite, wanted to “jointly . . . silence me, punish me and thereby [keep] the relationship of the company and union stable”.
It amounted to “the concealment of criminal activity”, Duffy claimed in his closing statement to the tribunal, something that is strongly rejected by the airline and the union, the Sunday Times reported.
Talia Barsam, representing BA, told the tribunal that the company denied “in the strongest possible terms” that it had ever been involved in illegal activity.
Unite, which was not involved in the tribunal, said: “We understand that the reasons for Mr Duffy’s dismissal related to his behaviour as an employee and not to the unfounded allegations you now raise.”
Details of the payout first surfaced last year. Unite was said to have hired Taylor Hampton solicitors to sue the airline after discovering that union representatives were among 10 BA staff whose private communications were accessed in 2011 when the airline faced the threat of strike action.
A letter that Taylor Hampton sent to BA in 2012 was submitted as evidence to the tribunal last week. It accused the airline of waging a “dirty tricks” campaign against Bassa staff that included harassment, misuse of personal and confidential information and breaches of the Data Protection Act. Unite later took over the negotiations.
Duffy, of Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, told the tribunal that three Bassa union representatives received a share of the BA settlement in late 2013 to keep quiet about what he called “email hacking, harassment, data breaches and victimisation by BA”.
At that time Bassa was involved in talks with BA over proposed changes to staff pay that ended with a deal Duffy said had saved the airline millions of pounds a year.
Duffy was demoted by BA and given a three-year final written warning over a Facebook post, referring to the settlement, in which he wrote about serving a “mistress of trade unionism” who was an “unfaithful, self-serving bitch”.
He was dismissed last year for gross misconduct after one of the three union representatives was shown an abusive text, referring to her as “Thugsy” and a “money-grabbing” traitor, which appeared to have been sent from his phone.
Duffy told the tribunal it must have been “spoofed” by a Bassa representative to look like it came from his number.
Barsam, representing BA, said that was “a fairly outlandish suggestion”, in her closing statement.
Judge Alastair Smail, sitting at the tribunal in Watford, reserved judgment.
BA said in a statement: “We have denied the allegations that have been made against BA and put forward our position to the employment tribunal.”
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