BA strike set to go ahead after talks falter

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BA cabin crew were set to strike for five days from Monday after talks between the airline's management and union chiefs collapsed.

However the head of Britain's biggest union said he would cancel the strike if BA agreed to restore staff benefits that had been stripped away by the loss-making carrier.

Talks between the two sides that collapsed on Saturday had yet to resume with just hours before a mass walk-out 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.

A BA spokesman earlier told AFP that the airline was willing to meet again with union bosses.

"We are certainly available for talks," he told AFP.

Last-ditch 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.

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.

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

© 2010 AFP

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