BA strike set to go ahead amid escalating war of words

23rd May 2010, Comments 0 comments

BA cabin crew were set to strike for five days from Monday after a last-ditch attempt to avert the walkout ended in failure amid an escalating war of words.

An offer Sunday by the head of Britain's biggest union to cancel the strike in exchange for key demands was rebuffed by the airline, which said it had made concessions already and accused the union of refusing to meet for talks.

Discussions between the two sides had collapsed on Saturday and were yet to resume with just hours before the mass walkout was due to begin.

"As a sign of goodwill and good faith I am making this offer now to (BA chief executive) Willie Walsh," Tony Woodley, joint head of the Unite union, told reporters on Sunday.

"Willie, turn round and reinstate our people's travel (benefits) ... and this union will call off" the strike.

But BA responded it had already offered to hand back travel concessions as part of a deal.

It also accused Woodly of "negotiating through the media" rather than talking to them directly through ACAS, an organisation dedicated to resolving employment disputes.

"We have already offered to reinstate travel concessions to cabin crew once all elements of our offer have been implemented," said a statement from the airline.

"We had agreed to a request from ACAS to meet (Sunday) afternoon and are surprised that Unite did not take advantage of this," it added.

While BA and Unite have reached broad agreement on pay, the sticking point is now the heavily discounted flights available to off-duty cabin crew -- key perks which have been taken away from workers who have gone on strike.

Negotiations to try and halt the planned strike were abandoned on Saturday after dozens of noisy protestors stormed the building where negotiations were being held.

Walsh was harangued by protestors, television pictures showed, and police said they had to escort him from the building in London after the security breach.

Walsh has faced accusations that he is trying to break the unions at BA and Unite accuses BA of imposing changes on cabin crew and refusing to negotiate openly and fairly.

The BA chief executive, though, insists that the airline is struggling for its very existence.

If Monday's strike does go ahead, it would come hot on the heels of BA posting a record annual pre-tax loss of 531 million pounds (609 million euros, 765 million dollars) on slumping sales.

The airline, which is slashing costs and merging with Spanish rival Iberia in a bid to return to profitability, has been hit hard by the global economic downturn which has decreased demand for air travel.

It also faced a tough start to the current financial year due to the recent closure of airspace across Europe caused by ash from an Icelandic volcano. A week-long shutdown in April was the biggest in Europe since World War II.

BA staff are also planning two further five-day strikes starting on May 30 and June 5.

© 2010 AFP

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