Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

BA's Walsh says he will never reinstate staff perks

Willie Walsh: "The proposal that BA tabled was rejected by this trade union"

British Airways' boss Willie Walsh has insisted that travel perks will "never" be reinstated for striking cabin crew.

He also said that, with a second strike due to start at midnight, there were no plans for talks with the Unite union.

The union has insisted that any peace deal must now include giving back travel concessions to cabin crew.

But, speaking on BBC television, Mr Walsh took a hard line, saying strikers knew their perks would stop and that he would not "compromise" on this.

The BA chief executive's comments are likely to intensify hostilities with Unite. In a letter sent to members, Unite called the ending of travel concessions "unacceptable anti-union bullying".

Staff and family/close friend get tickets at 10% of face value
Reciprocal agreements with other airlines
But tickets are standby only - so there is no guarantee of a seat

Mr Walsh rejected suggestions the withdrawal of concessions was a "punishment" or attempt to "break the union".

But he said the perks would "never" be reinstated, something likely to widen the rift with Unite. "We told them [cabin crew] about the consequences if they went on strike."

In a letter to cabin crew members before Mr Walsh's interview, Unite said: "Any agreement to end this dispute must and will include a framework for the full restoration of those travel concessions."

A four-day strike is due to begin at midnight. It follows last weekend's three-day stoppage, which followed surprise last-minute talks between BA and Unite.

Mr Walsh said there were no plans for talks on Friday, though he was "available".

"I met with Brendan Barber, [general secretary] of the Trades Union Congress, earlier this week. Brendan asked me if I would be available. I told him I would. I'm available at any stage if he gets the trade union to agree to meet, so I'm ready," Mr Walsh said.

He said he had not spoken to Prime Minister Gordon Brown since last weekend.

Union bashing

Meanwhile, 116 industrial relations experts have accused Mr Walsh of union-busting.

In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, the academics say they can find no other reason for his stance in the industrial dispute with the Unite union.

By Martin Shankleman, BBC employment correspondent

Willie Walsh reinforced his uncompromising reputation by speaking in such absolute terms. When asked if he will restore the travel perks taken away from strikers, he replied: "That will never happen... We have never, never negotiated on these perks and we never will."

While the categorical nature of these statements makes BA's negotiating position crystal clear, it has also, by definition, made it harder to reach an eventual deal.

In a previous strike in 1997, the perks were removed by BA, only to be reinstated at the end of the dispute. This must have fuelled the hopes of some strikers that the same conciliatory approach would be adopted by BA this time.

BA rejects the academics' claim, adding it has been in talks for months.

The academics come from a range of universities from the UK and elsewhere, including Oxford University.

The letter states the signatories have expertise in analysing the causes of industrial disputes and the dynamics of strike action.

"It is clear to us that the actions of the chief executive... are explicable only by the desire to break the union which represents the cabin crew."

It says that a victory for the company would bring "unilateral management prerogative" and an erosion of worker rights and democracy.

In a statement, BA set out several specific rebuttals of the charges.

The airline asked why, if strike-breaking was the aim, it had involved the TUC and the conciliation service Acas to try to reach a negotiated settlement with the union in the dispute with cabin crew.

Renewed strike

It also pointed out that Mr Walsh himself had spent three days at the TUC talking with union representatives.

BA is loss-making and facing stiff competition from other airlines and needs to cut costs.

Cabin crew, represented by the Unite union, held a three-day strike last weekend over proposed changes to pay and working conditions. They are preparing for a further four-day strike, set to begin at midnight.

They have repeatedly called for further talks with BA, and have offered their own programme of cost-reductions.

The dispute has become increasingly fractious, with the union calling BA "bullying and contemptuous" towards its employees.

British Airways said it has lost at least £21m because of the action.

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