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Latest News - March 2010

March 15, 2010
Union offer to suspend planned BA strike
Source: Financial Times
Author: Jim Pickard and Pita Clark


Britain’s biggest trade union offered on Monday night to suspend a British Airways strike that would hit 30,000 passengers a day from Saturday, saying it would look at calling off the walkout if the airline reinstated a settlement proposal withdrawn last week.

Unite’s offer raises the pressure on Willie Walsh, BA’s tough-talking chief executive, who has warned cabin crew that a strike would not ground the carrier and has recruited 6,000 volunteers to ward off the impact of industrial action.

BA said on Monday it would be able to operate only 43 per cent of flights during the first cabin crew strike period of March 20-22, including all those between London and Newark airport in the US, and 50 per cent between London and JFK airport in New York.

This meant around 60 per cent of passengers booked for those days would still fly, or 45,000 each day. But Mr Walsh said he was unable to say how many flights would operate in a second four-day stoppage due from March 27 until it was clear how many cabin crew would work normally.

Domestic UK flights would be worst hit under BA’s contingency plans, under which hired aircraft would help keep 30 per cent of short-distance flights going at Heathrow. Sixty per cent of long-haul Heathrow flights would operate. All such flights would operate at Gatwick, and more than half of short-haul flights. London City airport would be unaffected.

Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint general secretary, said he was ready to suspend industrial action if Mr Walsh put back the offer he removed last Friday after Unite announced the strike dates.

“Put the offer back on the table and we will look sensibly at suspending the strike and we can hopefully find a long-term solution to a very difficult subject,” he said.

Unite is under considerable political pressure to find a compromise in the dispute, which began last year after BA cut at least one cabin crew employee from most of its long-haul flights as part of an attempt to cut costs at the loss-making airline.

BA offered last week to restore 184 of the cabin crew positions it planned to cut, a number that fell far short of the 700 demanded by the union. It withdrew the offer after the union announced strike dates. BA said it had put the offer to Unite “on three occasions” but that the union had never recommended it to its members.

Gordon Brown condemned the union’s action on Monday, saying he hoped that the “deplorable” strikes were called off. Industrial action was “not in the company’s interest, it is not in the workers’ interest and it is certainly not in the national interest”, the prime minister said.

Mr Brown’s comments put him on a collision course with Unite, which, having given £11m to the Labour party in recent years, is the party’s biggest donor and likely to be a major contributor to its forthcoming general election campaign.

“They [Labour] know that they can treat us like their dog, you can kick us and we will still give them the money and attention and affection. They can’t kick BA, we’re the only ones they can take a stick to,” said one Unite official.

The Labour leadership is aware of the potential political damage from a strike. The Conservatives will on Tuesday release a “dossier” underlining Labour’s dependence on Unite that shows a quarter of Labour funding under Mr Brown coming from the union.





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