BA Heathrow cabin crew strike takes off

24th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of air travellers faced renewed travel chaos on Monday as British Airways cabin crew launched a five-day strike, after last-ditch negotiations collapsed.

BA said its services were off "to a good start" despite the latest strike in the long-running and increasingly hostile dispute between BA and Unite, Britain's biggest trade union, which began at midnight (2300 GMT Sunday).

But the walk-out disrupted BA's hub operations at London Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, notably hitting flights to and from Glasgow, Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan and Munich.

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

"Our operations around the world have got off to a good start," BA said in a statement. "The numbers of cabin crew reporting at Heathrow are currently at the levels we need to operate our published schedule.

"At Heathrow, our aim is to fly as many customers as we can during the strike period and we will be operating more than 60 percent of our long-haul programme and more than 50 percent of our short-haul flights.

"We continue to be available for talks with Unite."

BA said they had leased up to eight staffed aircraft from other British or European airlines.

Discussions broke down Saturday after dozens of socialist protestors stormed the talks venue.

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

Walsh insists that the airline is struggling for its very existence.

The on-running dispute soured further Monday as Tony Woodley, Unite's joint leader, accused Walsh of wanting "regime change" in the union's cabin crew branch.

Woodley said BA had achieved its original aim of slashing 1,700 cabin crew jobs.

"Those savings are in the bank. This dispute has been broadened, so this is not just about cost downs, it is about regime change. It is personal because of the dislike and trust of the branch," he told BBC radio.

Britain's Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the strike would not resolve the outstanding issues and urged a resumption of talks.

"The jobs of all BA staff depend on the airline's future competitiveness and the loyalty of all its customers and, in order to protect both, I now urge BA cabin crew to keep flying and keep talking," he said.

Monday's strike is 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.

Unite are planning two further five-day strikes, starting on May 30 and June 5.

© 2010 AFP

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