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Unite: More Strikes For British Airways

Unite threatens British Airways with more strikes

JONATHAN BUCK  May 31, 2010

LONDON—Unite, the union that represents cabin crew at British Airways PLC, warned Monday of further strikes this summer unless a long-running dispute over changes in working practices is resolved.

A fresh union ballot could be only weeks away, Unite Joint General Secretary Tony Woodley told delegates in Manchester at Unite's first policy conference. His remarks came as the two sides showed no sign of returning to the negotiating table and the day after a second in a series of five-day strikes got under way.

Mr. Woodley said British Airways faced "a prolonged and totally needless summer of disruption" and blamed the U.K. flag-carrier's chief executive officer, Willie Walsh, for his "hard-man stance on cabin crew travel" and "his persistent refusal to permit a peaceful settlement." The current mandate for industrial action is due to expire in early June.

BA and Unite have been locked in a dispute for nearly 16 months over changes to working practices. Tensions escalated in recent months after the company withdrew travel perks for those cabin crew who joined the picket lines.

An agreement could be reached for BA to restore full operations in time for the peak summer season, Unite said, "but only if BA drops its vicious determination to punish crew for striking by removing their travel assistance."

Both sides Monday signaled their willingness to participate in discussions, but neither appeared prepared to make the first move. The mediator, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, or ACAS, said there had been no developments since talks broke down Friday, and a spokesman for the Trades Union Congress was unaware of any plans for talks to resume.

British Airways is "available as and when" negotiations are tabled, said a spokesman at the U.K. flag carrier. A spokesman for Unite said: "Unite is ready and willing, and available at any time."

Cabin crew began a five-day strike at midnight Sunday. The stoppage is the second in a series of three five-day strikes: the first ended Friday and the third is scheduled to start June 5.

During the current five-day strike, BA expects to fly more than 70% of its long-haul schedule from London's Heathrow Airport and more than 55% of its short-haul schedule. That compares with about 60% of its long-haul schedule and 50% of its short-haul schedule during the previous stoppage. The airline's services from Gatwick and London City airports are unaffected by the industrial action.

BA has made changes to working practices as it attempts to restructure so it can return to profitability. One of those changes includes the reduction of cabin crew to 14 personnel from 15 on long-haul flights from London's Heathrow Airport that saves the airline about £60 million ($86.8 million) a year.

BA on May 21 reported its pretax loss in the 12 months to March 31 widened to £531 million from £401 million in the same period a year ago as it suffered weak demand, especially in premium travel, which traditionally generates a significant part of its profit. However, it expects to break even in the current fiscal year.

The carrier estimates that a seven-day strike in March cost it £43 million. Prolonged strikes could eventually cripple the airline as costs escalate and passengers wary of disruptions to travel plans look to other carriers.

Unite threatens British Airways with more strikes
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