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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006, 16:19 GMT
BA pilots prepare for long strike
BA tail fins at Heathrow
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Pilots at British Airways (BA) are being advised by their union to borrow 25,000 each to prepare for a long strike over their pension scheme.

The British Airlines Pilots Association (Balpa) says it is preparing for an all out strike of its 2,822 members at BA.

The company will announce plans by the end of March to cut the cost of its main pension scheme which has a deficit of at least 900m.

"We will do whatever it takes to defend these pensions" a Balpa spokesman said.

The union fears that the company may ask staff to pay higher contributions, work longer or accept lower benefits, in an attempt to plug the hole in the scheme's finances.

The pilots are particularly worried about the possibility of the scheme being changed from one based on the final salary they earn at the end of their career, to one based on their average salary throughout their years of work.

As they gain experience and seniority, pilots often see their salaries rise from a starting level of about 25,000 to more than 100,000 in the last years of their employment with BA.

The union is worried that such a change would lead to some members facing a 36% cut in their eventual pension.

Strike threat

Balpa first threatened the possibility of a strike last month.

That was its response to the company's own internal campaign to tell staff just how serious the pension scheme deficit is.

During this exercise, 14,000 BA staff have attended around 900 briefing sessions.

A recent MORI poll showed that more than half of them agreed the deficit was a threat to the airline's survival, while two-thirds thought the scheme needed to be changed.

However, a union spokesman insisted his members should not pay a penny extra to bail out the fund:

"The deficit is a debt to the fund that the company has to honour, just like a loan from a bank. They (BA) incurred the deficit, they have to meet it."

As well as gearing up for a strike, the union has also employed a team of eight actuaries and accountants to go through the accounts, past and present, of the company and its pension schemes.

Balpa wants to be in a position to challenge any assertion by the airline that the deficit is not its fault or that it cannot afford to make extra payments to plug the hole in the scheme's finances.

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