Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

British Airways facing busiest day of strike

Unite picket
Both sides in the dispute have disagreed on the strike's impact

Thousands more British Airways passengers are facing disruption to their journeys as the cabin crew strike enters its third and busiest day.

The Unite union says only 300 of the 2,200 cabin crew scheduled to work during the weekend turned up.

But BA says nearly 98% of staff reported for work at Gatwick and more than half showed up at Heathrow.

Cabin crew are striking over staffing and pay changes. They also plan to walk out for four days from 27 March.

Greater strain

Monday's operations are expected to be under greater strain as there are more flights than on Saturday and Sunday, meaning greater potential for disruption.

However, BA claims an increasing number of crew are ignoring the strike call and that it has been able to add extra services.

In a video posted on BA's website and on YouTube, chief executive Willie Walsh said the atmosphere at Terminal 5 on Sunday was "very positive", with "very good numbers" of cabin crew turning up for work.

The company is advising customers to check the BA website to find out what extra flights will now be operating.

The strike is expected to cost the airline millions in lost revenues.

Speaking to the BBC, Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners, called the strike "very damaging both in the short-term and the long-term", and said he expected BA to lose around £100m as a direct result of the industrial action.

But he added that losses would be much higher as a result of uncertainty over cancelled flights discouraging passengers from making bookings.

Fresh talks

Unite says support for the strike is solid, leaving 140 planes parked at Heathrow.

The Unite union has appealed to the board of British Airways to try to resolve the increasingly bitter dispute between the airline and its cabin crew.

Joint general secretary Tony Woodley called on the chairman of BA to "stand up, take his responsibilities seriously and instigate [fresh] negotiations".

Steve Turner says union members have been suspended for "speaking out on injustice"

Speaking to the BBC on Monday morning, Unite's Derek Simpson said that without further talks he didn't "see any alternative" to the second strike - due to begin on Saturday - going ahead.

"If we can talk this week then at least a decision can be taken that could well see the end to this and put the entire episode to bed," he said.

Despite the calls for negotiations, the BBC has learned that neither Unite nor BA has been in touch with the head of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) over the weekend.

Months of negotiations

On the second day of action, both sides of the dispute disagreed about how effective the strike had been.

Unite said only nine of 1,100 cabin crew reported at Heathrow on Sunday and that the vast majority of planes taking off were without crew.

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BA management, who are not taking pay cuts, or having their pension benefits reduced or having their role restructured say the workers must accept everything they say is fair
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The union said BA's Terminal 5 at Heathrow was like a "ghost town" and argued that the airline's contingency plans were failing passengers.

But BA said at least 55% of Heathrow based cabin crew reported for duty and 97% turned up for work at Gatwick.

A BA spokesperson added that not only had the airline managed to fly all those services scheduled during the strike, but that it had also reinstated a number of flights as more staff had turned up to work than expected.

The airline said more than 60% of customers flew on Sunday.

BA has been in negotiations with Unite for many months.

Workers are particularly angry that last November BA reduced the number of crew on long-haul flights and is introducing a two-year pay freeze from 2010.

The airline also proposed new contracts with lower pay for fresh recruits.

Unite says it accepts the need for BA to cut costs but is unhappy at the way in which the changes were brought in.

BA suffered a loss before tax of £342m for the nine months to the end of December 2009 and says it needs to cut costs in order to survive.


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