Page last updated at 19:23 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

BA dispute: Unite union says no decision yet on strike

British Airways aircraft
If the union is to strike, it must announce dates by 15 March

The union representing BA cabin crew has said there will be no immediate announcement about strike dates.

It had been expected to name dates following the breakdown of talks with British Airways on Wednesday evening.

But communication between the two sides has been continuing all day to try and agree a deal on cost cuts.

Time is running out for the union, however, as it must call any strike action by 15 March to prevent its mandate for industrial action lapsing.

The Unite union told the BBC that there would be no announcement on Thursday regarding strike action.

It told the BBC: "The lines of communication are still open."

The BBC's Maryam Moshiri, reporting from Unite's headquarters, said it was unclear whether the delay was an indication that the two sides were near to reaching a settlement.

"If you are still talking and communicating then it could be that there is something to communicate about. But on the other hand it could be that Unite is waiting to the very last minute to announce strike action."

The union has to announce any strike action before its mandate runs out on 15 March.

It must then give at least seven days notice before a strike can begin.

There is still the possibility, however, that BA could agree to extend its strike mandate to allow for further negotiations.

British Airways said only that it was "open for talks".

Meanwhile, the Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said the government would not be intervening in the dispute.

BA cabin crew voted for strike action last month over jobs, pay and changes to working conditions.

Union deal rejected

In November, BA reduced the number of cabin crew on long-haul flights and brought in a two-year pay freeze from 2010.

The airline has also proposed new contracts for fresh recruits and newly-promoted staff. These include a single on-board management grade, no seniority, promotion on merit, and pay set at the market rate plus 10%.

However, this would still see new recruits paid significantly less than current staff.

The union said these changes would hit passenger services, as well as the earnings and career prospects of cabin crew.

Talks earlier this week ended after a union-proposed cost-cutting package was rejected by BA.

Unite said the plans could save the airline £62.97m, through a combination of 2.6% pay cuts from 2010 and an offer for some staff to work part-time.

The union also proposed that new crew members could join at the lower rate of pay to replace crew that leaves the airline - currently about 25 people a month.

BA said the proposals would not save the airline that much and "would require pay cuts for crew of between £1,000 and £2,700 a year".

Jamie Bowden, former British Airways cabin crew manager: "The strike cannot be as effective as the union would like it to be"

The airline argues that its own proposals would save £62.5m from "minor changes to onboard crew numbers and [would] involve no reduction in earnings for existing crew".

When BA announced the changes in November, Unite complained that it had not been adequately consulted on the plans, and balloted members on strike action.

Despite overwhelming support from union members, a strike planned for Christmas was blocked by an injunction after the High Court declared it illegal.

Cutting costs

BA has said it is already preparing contingency plans for a possible strike, and has trained up 1,000 staff as cabin crew in order to cover for striking workers.

Jamie Bowden, an aviation analyst and former BA employee, told the BBC that BA had up to 7,000 crew to work on aircraft, and was also preparing to allow other airlines to fly BA passengers in order to minimise disruption.

"With 7,000 crew ready to work the strike cannot be as effective as Unite would like it to be," he said.

BA remains under pressure to cut costs after reporting huge losses in recent months.

Last month it said it lost £342m for the last nine months of 2009. That followed an annual loss of more than £400m reported in May last year.



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