Unite announces three weeks of BA cabin crew strikes from next week
Philip Pank, Transport Correspondent
More than a million British Airways passengers risk being caught up in the airline’s longest cabin crew strike after the Unite union called stoppages over the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend, the school half-term holidays and the lead-up to the World Cup.
The first of four five-day walkouts is due to begin next Tuesday after cabin crew rejected a peace offer from BA.
Despite the severity of the planned action and the fact that both sides say they have reached broad agreement over the initial cause of the dispute, BA says that it is not seeking to block the stoppage in the courts.
It is instead putting together a detailed contingency plan to try to keep some flights running. The airline insists that services from London City airport and Gatwick will operate as normal. Its hub at Heathrow will bear the brunt of the disruption caused by consecutive strikes on May 18 to 22 inclusive, May 24 to 28, May 30 to June 3 and June 5 to 9.
Unite’s joint general secretaries, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, said they hoped that failed negotiations might resume before the beginning of the stoppage. However, no talks are planned. The union leaders recommended that members reject a deal put forward by BA because of the company’s refusal to reinstate 50 cabin crew suspended during the dispute or to return travel concessions to all crew who joined seven strike days in March.
“Cabin crew are left with no choice but to take further strike action,” Mr Woodley and Mr Simpson said. “There can be no industrial peace without meaningful negotiations and while management victimises trade unionists and uses disciplinary procedures in a witch-hunt. The seven days’ notice period is sufficient time for BA management to do the sensible thing and reopen meaningful negotiations.”
BA said it was saddened but not surprised. “This decision has no semblance of justification. Unite’s officials continue to operate in their own world, showing callous disregard for our customers and their own members in all parts of our airline,” BA said. “We have made a very fair offer, which meets the concerns the union raised during 14 months of negotiations and also ensures that our crew remain the best rewarded in the UK airline industry.” The airline said it was confident that many crew would ignore the strike call. It has already begun negotiating with charter companies to hire aircraft and crew for the strike dates and says it will rebook thousands of passengers with rival airlines to ensure that they can get to their destinations. BA will publish its emergency schedule by the weekend.
BA says it lost £43 million during seven days of strikes in March.