Thursday 26 April 2018

British Airways to meet cabin crew union today as strike looms

British Airways Plc and the Unite union will meet today. Photo: Getty Images
British Airways Plc and the Unite union will meet today. Photo: Getty Images

Steve Rothwell

British Airways Plc and the Unite union representing its cabin crew will meet today as mediators intensify efforts to avert a strike set to begin tomorrow and resolve a six-month pay and staffing dispute.

The London-based carrier’s negotiators will hold talks with union counterparts at a meeting chaired by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service at 4 p.m. today, and Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh and Unite Joint General Secretary Tony Woodley will hold separate meetings with U.K. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

Flight attendants are set to strike for five days from tomorrow, the first of four walkouts totaling 20 days, after rejecting the most recent proposals on pay and staffing. The U.K. government is looking to help resolve the clash after BA said it is seeking an injunction from the High Court to block tomorrow’s planned strike, saying Unite didn’t comply with U.K. labor law during a vote.

“At the moment you have so much intransigence, both sides are going at it in a very aggressive way,” said John Strickland, an analyst at JLS Consulting Ltd. in London. “It does need to be solved, it’s not doing the company any good in the long term.”

The strike would follow seven days of action in March that cost the company as much as 45 million pounds ($65 million). British Airways, whose financial year runs from April through to March, will report its full-year earnings May 21, and is likely to post a 600 million-pound pretax loss for the year.

Spurn the Proposal

Cabin crew rejected the company’s most recent offer after Unite had urged them to spurn the proposal, citing BA’s refusal to reinstate travel benefits to workers who walked out in March and re-employ workers suspended during that dispute.

In seeking the injunction BA claims that Unite didn’t comply with U.K. labor law when disseminating the results of its most recent ballot. Unite will be “vigorously defending” its ballot and a solution will not be found in the courtroom, it has said.

Woodley said yesterday that Walsh is being “vindictive” toward the union and its members, in comments forwarded by Unite spokeswoman Pauline Dooley.

British Airways says that it has made a “very fair” offer to Unite and it wants to work with the union to resolve the dispute.

Negotiations over a pay deal first started 15 months ago with the dispute flaring up in November when Walsh cut cabin- crew staffing levels without union approval after the recession hurt demand for travel.

Volcanic Ash

Government-funded ACAS was last involved in the dispute in July, at the request of British Airways. The most recent negotiations have been brokered by the Trades Union Congress, the U.K.’s umbrella group for labor organizations.

British Airways also has to contend with the closure of its London Heathrow hub today between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. as the Civil Aviation Authority adjusts its no-fly zone to the movements of a “high-density ash cloud” from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. U.K. airspace over Northern Ireland remains shut as airports in northern England reopened today after being shut since 1 p.m. yesterday.

Airlines have been hurt by repeated shutdowns of Europe’s airspace following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull on April 14. Traffic at British Airways fell 22pc last month, after a shutdown that lasted six days, with dust disruption likely to cost the company about £100m (€117m), according to Chief Financial Officer Keith Williams.


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