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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 09:18 GMT 10:18 UK
Q&A: What next for BA?
The dispute with workers has been resolved and services are back to normal at British Airways, after a wildcat strike by check-in staff left tens of thousands of passengers stranded two weekends ago.

So is everything back to normal?

On the face of it, yes. Flights have returned to normal and BA and unions have resolved the dispute over the controversial electronic clocking-on system for Heathrow staff.

This means the immediate threat of strikes at UK airports has been lifted.

Catastrophe? Survival? How bad are things for BA in general?

Still pretty bad. The global economic downturn, the fear of terrorism following the September 11 attacks, the war in Iraq and most recently the Sars virus have all conspired to create the worst recession the airline industry has experienced.

But BA is in a particularly tricky situation, because it relies more than most airlines on business travellers and transatlantic travel.

The airline reported a loss of 45m for the April-to-June period and said the clocking-on dispute - which will figure in results for the next quarter - would cost it between 30m and 40m.

In contrast, rivals such as Easyjet and Ryanair, which focus on short-haul European routes, are growing nicely.

Under Rod Eddington, BA has gone through sweeping changes - and thousands of job cuts.

On the plus side, the trimmed down BA does look in reasonable shape compared with some of its full-price European rivals - some have collapsed, some are being slow to face financial reality and none are thriving.

Ok, worst case scenario - if the deal with unions falls apart, how long would it take for an official strike to start?

If the agreement between the airline and the unions falls apart, unions would have to give one week's notice for the start of the strike ballot.

Members would then have at least one week to vote, although two weeks are the norm.

If workers voted to strike, the union would have to give BA another week's notice of industrial action.

What was the dispute all about?

The immediate cause of the dispute was a new swipecard entry system allowing BA managers to monitor staff working hours.

BA ground staff were worried that the new clocking-on system could lead to them being sent home during off-peak hours, and being made to work longer than expected at busier times.

The airline denied this, and pointed out that the system - known as Automatic Time Recording (ATR) - had already been in use in parts of its Heathrow operations for three years.

Trade union sources said rank and file members were accusing BA management of high-handedness and intransigence.

I thought BA had put industrial disputes of this kind behind it?

Indeed it had.

Mr Eddington, who took over the top job three years ago, has earned plaudits for maintaining good relations with staff despite his aggressive cost-cutting programme.

In this respect, he has performed better than his predecessor Bob Ayling, whose own cost-cutting exercises triggered a highly damaging strike by BA cabin crew in the summer of 1997.

But whether the latest strikes prove to be merely a nasty blip for Mr Eddington rather than the start of anything more damaging remains to be seen.

BA's weary passengers will be hoping that the dispute really is over.


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