Belfast Telegraph

BA chief infuriates union with strike-breaking talk

By Alan Jones

British Airways has 1,000 volunteer staff ready to work as cabin crew in the coming weeks if a threatened strike goes ahead, the airline's chief executive said yesterday.

Willie Walsh also revealed BA will hire 23 fully crewed planes from charter companies to help run flights from Heathrow in the event of industrial action.

Mr Walsh gave the information during an internal briefing to staff, bringing them up to date on the bitter dispute over jobs and working conditions.

He made it clear that cuts in cabin crew numbers, one of the issues at the heart of the long-running dispute, will not be reversed.

Unite accused Mr Walsh |of being “inflammatory and confrontational” as talks continued to try to resolve the row.

Mr Walsh said he did not want a strike to go ahead, adding that he was willing to talk to unions about any concerns cabin crew workers had raised.

But he stressed that the changes made to onboard crew members would not be reversed.

Flights from London's City airport, including long haul services to New York, would operate normally in the event of a strike, while 70% of cabin crew would work at Gatwick, meaning all long haul and 50% of short haul flights would not be affected, he said.

No specific details were given about flights from Heathrow if a strike goes ahead, but Mr Walsh said a “substantial” number of long and short haul flights would still operate.

Unite has held off naming strike dates even though its members voted massively in favour of industrial action, saying it wanted to continue talks. Union sources said the talks were at a “delicate and fragile” stage.

Assistant general secretary Len McCluskey said of Mr Walsh's briefing: “It is deeply regrettable that BA's chief executive has chosen to adopt this inflammatory and confrontational stance at |a time when we are engaged in meaningful talks with the company.

“Again, we say to BA that the only way to resolve the issues before us is through negotiation. They certainly will not be addressed by attempting to intimidate employees.

“Any suggestion that we have had only two hours' talks in two weeks is utter nonsense. For eight weeks Unite has been working hard to make these talks succeed and we will continue to do so, working round the clock if need be.

“We have always said that negotiation, not confrontation, is the only way forward.

“But it is also remains our intention to support our members fully, which is why we are to appeal the recent High Court decision to allow BA to impose widespread changes to crew without consultation.”

Unite has under two weeks to call strikes and will have to give seven days' notice of walkouts. It will not take action over Easter.

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