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Talks hope in BA cabin crew dispute

Crucial talks aimed at averting fresh strikes by British Airways cabin crew are due to be held, with little sign of a breakthrough to the long-running dispute.

Chief executive Willie Walsh said he believed the airline's "final" offer rejected by Unite members last month still formed the basis of a resolution to the bitter row.

He also made clear he was pressing ahead with contingency plans to deal with further strikes, saying he was confident of running 100% of long-haul flights if there is more industrial action.

Cabin crew have taken 22 days of strike action since March and further walkouts could take place from September unless the peace talks, being held at the conciliation service Acas, lead to a deal.

The wave of strikes by cabin crew, coupled with disruption caused by Iceland's volcanic ash cloud, sent BA £164 million into the red for the three months to June, the carrier reported last week.

Mr Walsh said: "We continue to train volunteer cabin crew and that programme is going very well. I am looking forward to hearing what the trade union has to say in light of the poor turnout in the last ballot. I want to reach a resolution but we are preparing for further industrial action. I am confident we will operate 100% of our long-haul services and we are looking at the short-haul programme."

Mr Walsh said the last deal put forward by BA was the "best and final offer" which he described as "very fair", adding: "If the union wanted to bring an end to the dispute, they would have looked to get an agreement and acceptance of the proposal.

Unite's joint leader Derek Simpson said: "This is a dispute over £10 million. Contrast that with the £164 million in losses this quarter alone and questions must be asked about the direction of BA's management and the sense of them maintaining this dispute with cabin crew.

"It is important to remember that, on every call in this dispute, BA's management has got it wrong. It claimed that crew would accept the offer if Unite put it to them; they did not. Only 15% voted in favour, with 85% finding no appeal in it at all. BA also claimed that the majority of crew worked during the dispute but we have processed over 7,000 claims for strike pay - that means 70% of Heathrow crew, the backbone of the BA operation, took strike action.

"These losses bring no pleasure to Unite. It is never our intention to see BA struggle. We would far prefer to see it thrive and the way to ensure this is to settle peacefully with cabin crew."

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