More strikes for British Airways?

There could be more strike action
by British Airways cabin crew after union members voted to reject what the
carrier had termed its final offer.

The Unite union, which represents
around 90 per cent of BA crew, balloted members for their response to the
airline’s tabled offer of a 2.9 per cent pay increase in 2011, with a 3 per
cent increase in 2012. Of the 11,000 balloted earlier this month, 3,419 voted
to reject the offer, with 1,686 in favour.

“For the fourth time in this
dispute, cabin crew have given BA management the thumbs-down in a ballot,” said
Unite joint general secretary, Tony Woodley.

“In a free vote – without any
recommendation from the union – only 15 per cent of crew accepted the deal that
[BA head] Willie Walsh claimed would be resoundingly accepted. BA cannot build
industrial peace on such a flimsy foundation.

“This is a wake-up call to BA. If
Willie Walsh wants to lift the spectre of strike action from his schedule once
and for all, he must come back with an offer acceptable to more than a tiny
minority of the cabin crew. We are ready to talk,” said Mr. Woodley.

It is now likely that Unite will
seek a further mandate to strike from its members. There have been 22 days of
industrial action since March 2010.

Encouraged

British Airways told the Caymanian
Compass that they were encouraged by the result of the ballot, which the
carrier said showed that 73 per cent of its cabin crew did not reject the offer.

“With only around a quarter of our
cabin crew voting against the deal, support for Unite is ebbing away. The union
has lost the moral authority to represent the views of our cabin crew. Such a
low turnout raises serious questions for Unite and shows it does not have a
clear mandate to reject our offer.  We
would urge them to come back to the table to sign the agreement and end the
dispute.

“We have made a fair offer that
includes two years of guaranteed rises in basic pay on top of annual increment
pay increases and gives certainty to crew about their future earnings. There
are no cuts in pay and our current Heathrow crew remain the best rewarded in
the UK airline industry. After the worst recession in aviation history, we must
reshape ourselves to achieve the kind of sustainable profitability that will
enable us to invest for the benefit of our customers,” said Marcia Erskine,
spokesman for the airline.

The ongoing dispute began regarding
cuts in cabin crew on long-haul flights from BA’s Heathrow hub. According to
Unite, the situation was exacerbated by British Airways’ withdrawal of travel
perks from staff who had joined the initial strikes and staff sackings. The
latest offer by the carrier included the reinstatement of some of the benefits
that had been removed.

Antitrust immunity

There was better news for British
Airways with the announcement that the European Union had approved a new joint
business agreement between American Airlines and British Airways and a merger between
BA and Spanish carrier Iberia. The United States Department of Transportation
announced on Wednesday that it had granted antitrust immunity to the carriers.
This removes restrictions regarding the co-ordination of prices and schedules between
carriers and allows businesses to share costs.

Part of the deal required the
carriers to make four pairs of valuable landing slots at Heathrow available for
new competitors in the market. Two had to be used for a Boston to London service
with two from any other US city. The European Commission requirements include
BA giving up slots between Heathrow and Gatwick for flights to Boston, Fort
Worth, Miami and New York, a total of 49 weekly flights.

“As a result of the Department’s
action, American and its one-world alliance partners British Airways, Iberia
Airlines, Finnair and Royal Jordanian Airlines will be able to more closely
coordinate international services,” the transportation department said in a
statement.

“The Department found that granting
antitrust immunity to the one-world alliance will provide travellers and
shippers with a variety of benefits, including lower fares in some markets, new
nonstop routes, improved services and better schedules.”

Monster monopoly

One competitor, Virgin Atlantic,
said that the move would create a ‘monster monopoly’ and that customers would
suffer as a result. Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin group, said
that the Department of Transport had put the interests of British Airways and
American Airlines before those of the public.

“As a result, millions of
passengers on both sides of the Atlantic will suffer the consequences of this
monster monopoly. This is a bad day for consumers.

“The lesson that big corporations
wishing to create anti-competitive monopolies can draw from this debacle is to
keep applying year after year until they finally find regulators and
politicians willing to wave the application through – no matter what the cost
is to consumers,” he told reporters.

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