THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Vote could extend British Airways strike

Union balloting may be as early as next week

Union banners flew at Heathrow Airport as a strike by British Airways cabin crews continued. Labor and management have been discussing changes in staffing levels and future pay grades at the money-losing airline for more than a year. Union banners flew at Heathrow Airport as a strike by British Airways cabin crews continued. Labor and management have been discussing changes in staffing levels and future pay grades at the money-losing airline for more than a year. (Alastair Grant/ Associated Press)
By Ola Kinnander and Steve Rothwell
Bloomberg News / June 2, 2010

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LONDON — British Airways’ cabin-crew union may vote as early as next week on extending a strike that grounded flights for tens of thousands of Britons during one of the United Kingdom’s busiest holidays for air travel.

The third day of the second phase of a walkout by flight attendants passed yesterday with no sign of a resolution to the dispute. British Airways canceled more than 200 flights from its main base at Heathrow Airport over the long weekend, according to the Unite union, which represents the carrier’s 12,000 cabin crew.

Chief executive Willie Walsh wants to cut costs by hiring any new crew on less generous wages. Walsh and Unite’s joint general secretary, Tony Woodley, resumed talks yesterday. The most recent negotiations, focusing on restoring travel perks to those who took part in work stoppages in March, broke off Friday.

“It’s extremely important they get their cost reductions implemented,’’ said Jacob Pedersen, an analyst at Sydbank A/S in Denmark.

Including a seven-day strike in March, the disruption has cost the airline $154 million, Unite said.

British Airways, Europe’s third-largest carrier, has been operating about 70 percent of its long-haul timetable during this phase of the strike, the second since the walkout began on May 24. The airline said it intends to raise the level of service to about 80 percent during the next part of the stoppage, due to start Saturday.

The proportion of short-haul flights operating will rise to 60 percent from 55 percent, the airline said. Unite said British Airways canceled 19 long-haul services yesterday and 86 flights within Europe.

“We will continue to fly as many passengers as we can,’’ British Airways spokesman Denny McGhee said.

At Unite’s annual policy conference in Manchester on Monday, Woodley told delegates that a new ballot for extended industrial action may be “only a week or so away.’’ A fresh vote is necessary because the 12-week period for holding a strike will end early this month, Woodley said.

“Willie, we all know there is a deal to be done, one that recognizes the real commercial needs and problems of your company as well as our members’ legitimate interests,’’ Woodley said Monday. “But we are not, and never will be, prepared to see our members and our union humiliated, victimized, and reduced to ruins.’’

British Airways stock has lost 3.6 percent since Feb. 22, when Unite said its members had voted to strike, versus a 12 percent drop in the eight-member Bloomberg EMEA Airlines Index.

Two earlier rounds of strikes in March contributed to a $623 million annual loss that was the London-based carrier’s biggest since it first sold shares to investors in 1987.

The two sides have been discussing changes in staffing levels and future pay grades for more than a year. The current dispute flared up in November, when Walsh cut crew numbers on long-haul flights without the union’s approval.

Services from London Gatwick, the United Kingdom’s second-busiest airport and a hub for holiday flights, were operating as normal, with cabin crew having ignored the strike call, British Airways said.