Union call off BA strike action

A planned three-day strike by thousands of British Airways cabin crew has been called off by the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G).

Submitted by Ed on January 29, 2007

Marathon talks between BA and the T&G had been going on to try to avert the stoppages on Tuesday and Wednesday. BA executives and union leaders said an agreement had been reached on the key issues of pay, pensions and the management of sickness absence. BA will now attempt to reinstate as many flights as possible. Two potential 72-hour strikes earmarked for February have also been called off.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh said he was "really pleased" with the conclusion to the talks, and T&G secretary general Tony Woodley said it was "a fresh start". British Airways shares rose 3.2% on the news to 544.25 pence.

'Excellent job'
BA had already cancelled a total of 1,300 flights for Tuesday and Wednesday, including all flights out of Heathrow and domestic and European flights out of Gatwick.

Despite the strike being called off, BA said that the agreement had come too late to prevent disruption to many of its flights. Mr Walsh and other managers had been negotiating with officials from the T&G union across the weekend. Both sides had been seeking an agreement to avoid a 48-hour walkout over sickness absence, pay and staffing at BA. Mr Walsh called the outcome "a solid foundation for working for the future".

"We are pleased that our negotiations with the T&G have resulted in an agreement that removes the threat of strikes," he said.

"We have always said that our cabin crew do an excellent job and we believe this agreement lays a firm foundation to enable us to provide even higher standards of onboard service for customers in the future."

He added: "Unfortunately, the decision has come too late to prevent disruption to the travel plans of tens of thousands of our customers tomorrow and Wednesday."

'Regained respect'
Mr Woodley said: "This has been a very difficult set of negotiations to address a multitude of problems that have built up over a long period of time."

He said the deal with BA addressed absence control management, agreements to resolve what he called " a two-tier wage structure", and an agreement on pensions. "Cabin crew have regained the respect that they are entitled to," he added.

"They did not feel they were being treated with respect. It is time for the company and cabin crews to make a fresh start.

"The agreement on the table will not be bettered. It is time to get back to normal."

He also apologised to members of the public who had been affected by what he called "an unfortunate dispute".

Sickness issue
Out of the airline's 14,000 cabin crew, about 11,000 are members of the T&G - 96% of whom voted for strike action.

They had complained that a new regime on sickness pay, introduced 18 months ago, meant they were forced to work when they were ill. The union claimed that some cabin crew lived in fear of calling in sick.

BA said the main part of the new regime simply involved staff having a conversation with their manager when they return to work following sick leave. It insisted the measures were needed to cut high levels of sickness absence, which it calculated have come down from 22 days per staff member to 12 days since the new rules were brought in.

Starter pay rates for crew members, overall pay grading and promotion opportunities were also subject to dispute.

The union also wanted the introduction of a single pay arrangement for cabin crew staff, rather than the existing two tier system, with staff who joined after 1997 being paid less than those employed before that date.