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British Airways - Ready For Strike

British Airways to lease staffed aircraft from other airlines if cabin crew strikes


LONDON - British Airways PLC said Wednesday it has prepared a range of measures to help combat possible strikes by cabin crew over pay and working conditions, including temporarily leasing staffed aircraft from other airlines.

The airline said it has 23 "wet leases" ready for the strike. It will lease aircraft complete with crew and pilots from other airlines to cover certain routes, but declined to say which routes they will cover.

In addition, it said 1,000 BA staff had volunteered to replace cabin crew during the strike, while 6,000 staff had offered to help in other areas, such as handing out advice at airports. The airline has already been training pilots and ground staff as cabin crew.

BA's cabin crew last month voted to strike for a second time after their first attempt at industrial action over the Christmas period was blocked by the U.K. High Court. However, no strike date has been announced since the airline and workers are still negotiating.

The Unite union, which represents the cabin crew, Wednesday criticized BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh for addressing BA staff about the measures the carrier has taken to undermine any potential strike action by asking other staff to fill in, calling the approach an "inflammatory and confrontational stance at a time when we are engaged in meaningful talks with the company."

Both sides tried to address rumors that talks were breaking down. BA denied reports that Mr. Walsh has said talks with unions were going nowhere, while the union said: "Any suggestion that we have had only two hours talks in two weeks is utter nonsense."

Mr. Walsh also denied reports that bookings had fallen 30% in the wake of the new decision by unions to strike.

Some 81% of BA's cabin crew who voted in the latest ballot supported industrial action, less than the 92.5% that supported a strike in December, after BA's threatened to withdraw subsidized travel for those that don't turn up for work. Unite said just under 80% of cabin crew voted in the ballot.

The two sides have been battling for 12 months over how to cut costs at the unprofitable airline, leading BA to reduce cabin crew on long-haul flights from London's Heathrow Airport to 14 personnel from 15 without union support. Last month, the High Court ruled that those changes weren't a breach of contract, meaning BA won't be forced to pay damages to affected staff or revert back to previous working practises.

In December, BA won an injunction to prevent a 12-day strike--which would have cost the airline £300 million ($450 million)--after it argued that the union had balloted staff that weren't entitled to vote because they would have left the U.K. carrier at the time strikes were due to take place.

The union took another ballot in the wake of that High Court injunction. Unite has until March 15 to give BA notice of a strike and industrial action could start a week later. However, seeking to avoid the public outcry that met its failed decision to strike over Christmas, the union has already said it won't strike over Easter.

British Airways to lease staffed aircraft from other airlines if cabin crew strikes
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