British Airways Closer to Cabin-Crew Strike as Union Talks Fail
British Airways Plc’s 12,000 flight attendants moved closer to a strike after talks with Europe’s third-largest airline over pay cuts broke down. Officials at Unite, which represents BA cabin crew, will meet today to discuss “next steps,” spokeswoman Pauline Doyle said from the union’s London headquarters. Unite has the legal authority to announce a strike any time before March 15. “Despite a prolonged period of negotiations, it has not been possible to reach agreement between BA and Unite,” Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, which had brokered the talks, said in a statement yesterday. Discussions broke down after British Airways rejected union proposals for a 2.6 percent pay cut, lower staffing levels and a reduction in allowances. The London-based carrier said the package fell “significantly short” of the 63 million-pound ($94 million) saving claimed by Unite and that its own blueprint would achieve the sum without any wage reduction for serving employees. No more discussions are scheduled, and the parties “will be reflecting on the position,” according to the TUC, which said it would keep in touch with both sides. Unite won backing for a strike in a month-long poll of workers that ended Feb. 22. The authorization lasts four weeks, and the union must give seven days’ notice of a walkout. Len McCluskey, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said March 8 that industrial action was an even bet. Open to Talks British Airways remains available for further talks with Unite, spokesman Tony Cane said last night in a phone interview. Union proposals would cut annual pay for existing crew by between 1,000 pounds and 2,700 pounds, British Airways said in an e-mailed response to Bloomberg questions. The BA strategy includes “minor changes to onboard crew numbers,” while necessitating no reductions in pay for serving flight attendants, the e-mail said. Unite’s plan would be especially unfair to workers at London’s Gatwick airport, where no changes to crew numbers have taken place, it said. Unite said in an e-mail to members that its submission to British Airways had been “fair, far reaching and generous.” The plan met the carrier’s financial demands and gave the go ahead for it to establish a “new fleet” with separate contract terms and conditions for future recruits. Relations with the union soured in November, when BA Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh reduced crew numbers on long-haul flights out of London Heathrow after 1,000 flight attendants agreed to leave and 3,000 more went part-time. Walsh is seeking to slash costs after the company had a record 245 million-pound loss in the nine months through Dec. 31 as sales plunged in the wake of the global recession. Air France-KLM Group is Europe’s largest airline. The regional No. 2, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, also faces a possible strike in a dispute with pilots.
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