Talks bid to avert British Airways strike

22nd May 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Airways (BA) and union representatives are to hold last-ditch talks Saturday in a bid to prevent a wave of strike action.

BA cabin crew are set to hold a five-day strike from Monday, followed by two further five-day actions starting on May 30 and June 5, if the talks mediated by employment dispute resolution service Acas are not successful.

"There is a window of opportunity this weekend for a negotiated settlement to be achieved," Acas chief conciliator Peter Harwood said.

"If an agreement is not reached this weekend, there is every possibility that additional pressures on both sides will ensue which will make a final resolution more problematic."

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) Friday 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 closure of airspace across Europe for up to a week last month after Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano began spewing a cloud of ash on April 14. The shutdown was the biggest in Europe since World War II.

BA is locked in a long-running battle with the Unite trade union, which represents cabin crew.

While BA and the union have reached broad agreement on the issue of 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.

BA had won an injunction blocking a first five-day strike -- due to have started on Tuesday this week -- by arguing that the union had failed to report the results of the ballot properly to its members.

But the union later won an appeal against the injunction.

If the strike does go ahead next week, BA says it is confident that thousands of cabin crew will ignore it and that it will be able to fly more than 70 percent of its passengers.

Unite accuses the airline of imposing changes on cabin crew and refusing to negotiate openly and fairly.

© 2010 AFP

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