BA Strike "Inevitable?"

Unions representing British Airways cabin crew warned last night that strike action is “inevitable” unless a compromise can be reached at a meeting on Monday, the Times is reporting.

Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA, will meet Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, the joint heads of the Unite union, to try to break the deadlock on Monday.

Bassa, the division of Unite that represents BA cabin crew, said in a letter to members yesterday that “If no progress is made at that meeting, a ballot for industrial action is inevitable.”

The talks between Unite and BA have dragged on since June and the airline’s management said last week that it would start imposing limited changes from November 16.

BA wants to save $228 million a year from its cabin crew budget, but it also wishes to make radical changes to working practices. Among the conditions that BA wants to impose are a reduction in crew numbers on some flights. It will also force senior cabin crew to participate in normal food and drink service and new recruits will be employed on different terms and be paid less.

Unite’s negotiators were scheduled to meet BA on Wednesday at Acas, the conciliation service, to discuss a range of other issues, such as a two-year pay freeze, but the meeting broke down because the union refused to participate unless the airline removed the threat of imposed changes. BA’s negotiators would not remove it and the deadlock will be left to Walsh and the Unite general secretaries to resolve.

If the threat of imposition is removed, Unite said that negotiations would continue on October 21. If, however, the two sides are unable to reach agreement on Monday, the prospect of strikes later this year will become almost certain. A strike could ground BA’s entire fleet and ruin the holiday plans of tens of thousands of passengers.

In recent weeks, the cabin crew’s union has stepped up the rhetoric in preparation for a showdown with the airline’s bosses. “We now urge all our members to join with us and stand strong with us to prepare for the battle we face ahead," the union said in a message to members. "Have no doubts that the fight is coming, but together we are at our strongest and together we will win.”

BA launched its cost-cutting program last year in response to a dramatic decrease in passenger numbers as a result of the economic slowdown. It has eliminated about one-third of its managers and wants to remove 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs from its 14,000 cabin crew. The airline is also looking to eliminate another 1,400 to 1,700 jobs among ground staff and has reached an agreement with its pilots to reduce their pay packages.