29
Mar
10

British Airways: A few strikes don’t make a spring of discontent

NEWS
British Airways: A few strikes don’t make a spring of discontent

Monday, March 29, 2010

NEWS

British Airways cabin crew have launched a four-day strike, forcing the cancellation of numerous flights as they stage their second walkout in a week over an increasingly bitter dispute.

BA said about 70 % of its long-haul flights and up to 55 % of its short-haul flights were operating on Saturday during the strike by the Unite union, even more than during last weekend’s three-day action.

The airline has said more than three-quarters of its passengers – over 180,000 out of 240,000 – will still be able to travel, and chief executive Willie Walsh said it’s doing “everything possible” to make this happen.

In a YouTube message issued late on Saturday, he added: “We’re absolutely committed to resolving this dispute with the trade union and returning British Airways to normal operations as soon as possible.”

Walsh has warned the airline could fold in a decade unless the changes to working practices he wants are carried out, but Unite says his “slash and burn” approach would lead to a two-tier workforce and a reduced service.

Negotiations between Unite, which represents BA’s 12,000 cabin crew, and the airline broke down on the eve of the first strikes.

A BA spokeswoman said on Saturday that London Gatwick and London City airports were operating as normal and enough staff had turned up to the airline’s main hub at London Heathrow to crew the revised timetable.

She dismissed as “rubbish” Unite’s claims that passengers on six fully loaded flights had to disembark due to a lack of crew, and that flights were leaving with reduced crew and well under capacity.

Walsh visited Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5 to talk to passengers who had their travel plans disrupted, and said he found customers “very positive”.

“At the same time I am deeply sorry for those customers who have had their holidays and their plans disrupted,” he said in his video message.

Outside Heathrow, striking cabin crew set up picket lines and were joined by staff from Iberia, the Spanish airline which is in talks to merge with BA.

The union has claimed the cost to the airline of the strike action will be $149.722 million.

By contrast, BA has said last week’s walkout cost $10.479 million a day and that an assessment of the cost of the full seven-day action could only be made after it was finished.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, Walsh said changes to working conditions are vital to the company’s survival.

“We are trying to transform the way we operate because the industry is changing and the economic conditions have changed so radically that we’ve got to change,” he said.

“We’re doing this to make sure BA still exists in 10 years. If we don’t do this, BA won’t exist in 10 years.”

BA said last month it expected to notch up a record loss in the current financial year due to weak demand for air travel.

Walsh also denied accusations that he was trying to break the union, after the claim was made in a letter from 116 industrial relations experts from universities across Britain, published in The Guardian on Friday.

“It is clear to us that the actions of the chief executive of British Airways… are explicable only by the desire to break the union which represents the cabin crew,” the academics’ letter read.

The union has also complained of intimidation, and one cabin crew member who asked not to be named said: “I’ve been with the company for 21 years and they’ve never imposed on us. They’ve always sought an agreement, until now that is. Now there is an atmosphere of fear which I’d never seen before.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has condemned the strike but, just weeks before a general election, faces accusations of a weak response from the main opposition Conservatives because Unite is a major donor to his Labour Party.

Cabin crew strike
Updated information including some cancellations for flights departing on and after 30 March 2010.
For more information: All The Latest Advice For British Airways Passengers GO
• Source(s): U.K. Press & British Airways
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