Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

BA: 'Strike will not affect most passengers'

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

British Airways expects to fly more than three quarters of passengers during the next cabin crew strike, due to begin at midnight.

This is more than during last weekend's strike, but some 17,000 customers will still be hit by flight cancellations during the four-day stoppage.

The news comes amid growing hostilities between BA and the Unite union over the travel perks enjoyed by cabin crew.

BA boss Willie Walsh has said he will never reinstate the perks for strikers.

BA said that during the strike, all London Gatwick and London City flights would operate normally. At its main hub, Heathrow, at least 55% of short-haul and 70% of long-haul flights would operate.

BA STAFF PERKS
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

Of the 240,000 customers originally booked to fly in the strike period, 180,000 will fly either on BA planes, or on hired planes. A further 43,000 have been rebooked onto other carriers, or changed the dates of their travel, BA said.

Mr Walsh said he was pleased to be offering more flights, but was "really sorry" for affected travellers.

The Unite union said the airline's contingency plans were "costing more money than it would cost to solve the dispute".

'No compromise'

Travel perks available to cabin crew have become the latest issue to divide the two sides. BA has withdrawn these perks for staff who went on strike.

But Unite said in a letter to members that the "full restoration" of these concessions was a condition of any peace deal with BA.

And the BBC has learnt that some cabin crew are considering legal action over the withdrawal of these perks.

Brian Boyd, Unite: "We are now committed to the four days of action"

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".

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

But he said the perks would "never" be reinstated. "We told them [cabin crew] about the consequences if they went on strike."

Staff travel is a non-contractual benefit granted solely at the company's discretion, he said.

Union bashing

ANALYSIS
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.

Mr Walsh's conduct during the dispute has drawn criticism from 116 industrial relations experts, who have accused him of union-busting.

In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, the academics write: "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."

In a statement, BA rejected the charge, pointing out that Mr Walsh spent three days at the TUC talking with union representatives.

The company said it had been trying to resolve the disagreements with cabin crew for months, and had asked the TUC and conciliation service Acas to get involved.



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