Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Sunday, 14 March 2010

Planned BA strike is 'totally unjustified', says Adonis

Lord Adonis: "The stakes are incredibly high... I absolutely deplore this strike"

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has attacked the planned strike by British Airways cabin crew staff, calling it "totally unjustified".

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that the strike posed a threat "to the future of one of our great companies in this country".

The dispute is over reduced staffing levels and pay at the airline, with the first strike due to start on 20 March.

The Unite union said Lord Adonis "appears badly informed".

'Deplore'

"Let's be absolutely clear the stakes are incredibly high in this strike and I absolutely deplore the strike," said Lord Adonis.

BA planes
The Unite union has announced two sets of strikes

"It is not only the damage it's going to do to passengers and the inconvenience it's going to cause - which is quite disproportionate to the issues at stake - but also the threat it poses to the future of one of our great companies in this country.

"It's totally unjustified, this strike, on the merits of the issues at stake, and I do call on the union to engage constructively with the company."

A Downing St source refused to confirm whether Gordon Brown has spoken to the Unite union.

The source told the BBC that Number 10 would not be giving a "running commentary" about the strike negotiations.

The strike starting on 20 March is due to last for three days, with a second four-day walkout due to begin on 27 March.

A spokesman for Unite said it and the cabin crew staff "want to avoid strike action", and that it "is always ready to negotiate".

He also called on Lord Adonis to publicly pressure BA to "put back on the table" the settlement offer it made last week.

This offer was withdrawn by BA on Friday after the airline said it was conditional on strike action being averted.

Derek Simpson: "We've nothing to get back round the table about"

The offer included commitments on working hours and annual pay rises in exchange for the cabin crew workers agreeing to the BA's planned £62.5m of cost cuts.

"If Lord Adonis is not prepared to speak out, he risks being seen as taking the part of a bullying and intransigent management," added the Unite spokesman.

'Disproportionate'

BA backed Lord Adonis's comments, calling the strike "disproportionate".

It said the cabin crew changes it imposed last November were vital cost-cutting measures to secure the airline's future and return it to profitability.

A BA spokesperson said although the company was facing two years of record financial losses, "unlike other businesses, we have avoided compulsory redundancies".

"Cabin crew face no pay cut or reduction in terms and conditions - and remain the best rewarded in the UK airline industry."

Donations claim

Lord Adonis's comments were in contrast to the more conciliatory words used by Alistair Darling on Sunday.

"I am very, very clear that the two sides must get down and try and sort this out without inconveniencing the public or having any adverse impact on the economy," the chancellor told Sky News.

"I'm very clear that strikes, particularly a strike like this, particularly just before the Easter break, is extremely damaging for the travelling public, of course it's damaging to the airline and I think people need to think long and hard about the consequences of what they do."

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Meanwhile, Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles has written to the prime minister calling on him to unequivocally condemn the planned strike action.

The Conservatives say Unite has given Labour £11m over the past four years, and Mr Pickles has called on Labour to suspend its financial relationship with the union until the dispute is settled and the strikes are called off.

'Bent on confrontation'

Unite has confirmed it will not strike over Easter, but warned there could be further action after 14 April if a resolution with BA is not agreed.

BA boss Willie Walsh said on Friday that the two parties were "not close at all" to coming to an agreement.

The Unite union and its members say the changes are disproportionate.

They also say they hit passenger services, as well as the earnings and career prospects of cabin crew.

Unite says it acknowledges the "need for change", and has proposed its own cost-cutting package, which it says is worth £63m. BA has rejected this, disputing this figure.

Unite's assistant general secretary Len McCluskey says the airline is "bent on confrontation".

BA says it has trained other staff to do the work of cabin crew teams, and has pledged to fly as many planes as possible should the strike action go ahead.



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