Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Gordon Brown says BA strike deplorable and unjustified

Gordon and Sarah Brown leaving a BA plane

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said a planned strike by British Airways (BA) cabin crew would be "unjustified and deplorable".

The strike comes at "the wrong time", he told BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

Later Lord Adonis, transport secretary, said in the House of Lords that "passengers should not be held to ransom" by the Unite union.

Unite had said earlier that it was for BA to make the next move to ensure further talks take place.

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

With a general election looming, Mr Brown's comments are a rare direct intervention in an industrial dispute that involves one of the Party's biggest donors.

It is rather unfortunate that the government of all shapes and sizes always want to kick the unions and kick the employees when in actual fact it's my members who've been kicked here

Tony Woodley, Unite union

"We should not have a strike," he said.

"It's not in the company's interest, it's not in the workers' interest and it's certainly not in the national interest.

"We have got to find a way in which the two sides can get together."

Lord Adonis called on "the union to lift the threat of a strike and get back to the negotiating table".

BA's 'existence' at stake

Lord Adonis's comments echo his weekend remarks that a strike would "threaten the very existence" of BA.

I am very disappointed that a small section of a great airline can be so short sighted

Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, condemned what he said were Government attacks on union members.

"I don't blame our PM for trying to help bring together parties to resolve the dispute," Mr Woodley said in an interview with BBC Radio 4's World at One.

"But it is rather unfortunate that the government of all shapes and sizes always want to kick the unions and kick the employees when in actual fact it's my members who've been kicked here."

Mr Woodley was particularly critical of Lord Adonis, saying: "For an unelected person who hasn't got a clue about this dispute, it would have been wiser for him to have kept his counsel.

"He's got no industrial experience whatsoever."

Settlement offer

BA planes
The Unite union has announced two sets of strikes

Mr Woodley and Derek Simpson, his co-leader of Unite, said that for any talks to be re-started, BA chief executive Willie Walsh would need to put the settlement offer back on the negotiating table.

BA withdrew its offer on Friday after the airline said it was conditional on strike action being averted.

That offer had 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.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said Mr Brown could not have it both ways - condemning the strike while at the same time taking money from Unite.

"In the end this is a question of leadership for Gordon Brown," Mr Osborne said. "He has to cut off links with the Unite union, which is in effect a party within a party.

"Condemning the strike is one thing. But is he going to go on accepting the strikers' money?" Mr Osborne said.

Affected flights

Meanwhile, BA has published on its website some flight information for the proposed strike dates.

However, the website statement said the details are not complete. "We are currently finalising our flight schedules for the strike period and have temporarily stopped selling seats on all flights operating on the strike dates," BA said.

"We will finalise these schedules in the next few days and further information will be posted here as soon as it is available."

Details of the cancellations would allow hundreds of thousands of passengers to make informed choices about what alternative arrangements to make.

But BA is emphasising that it intends to operate the majority of its flights, about 70% overall. Most cancellations are likely to be domestic and short haul flights.

BA also hopes to be operating at least 23 aircraft with replacement crews made up of other staff.

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