British Airways, Unite meet at Acas to head off new strike

The Unite trade union and British Airways have held
discussions at Acas, the conciliation service, that could lead to resolution of
a long-running dispute with the airline’s cabin crew.

It is understood that preparations for a new strike
ballot are well under way at Unite but sources close to the dispute said
“substantive progress” had been made in talks last week.

Acas hosted discussions between Willie Walsh, BA chief
executive, and Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint general secretary, on Friday.

Unite has been preparing to hold a ballot over disciplinary
action taken against more than 100 cabin crew and the withdrawal of travel
perks from an estimated 6,700 staff who took part in 22 days of walkouts
earlier this year.

However, the union has put new peace proposals to BA and
Woodley is expected to discuss progress on talks with senior shop stewards this

BA has said the disciplinary cases, which include 14
sackings, follow guidelines agreed with Unite. The airline has offered to
reinstate the travel concessions but without the seniority status that allows
employees to board a flight ahead of junior colleagues.

Unite and its main cabin crew branch, Bassa, argue that
the staff travel move is tantamount to punishment for exercising the right to
strike. Walsh, in turn, has stated that the travel concessions are for
“those who show loyalty to the company”.

Walsh has pledged to operate 100% of BA’s long-haul
services from Heathrow in the event of further strikes, alongside a full
complement of services at Gatwick and City airports.

If talks fail and a ballot goes ahead next month,
walkouts could take place over Christmas, but BA is adamant that any disruption
will be restricted to its Heathrow short-haul network.

In a message to Unite’s BA members last month, Woodley
alleged that the airline was attempting to “eliminate” Unite from the
cabin crew workforce and undermine its representatives across the rest of the
company. Walsh, a former shop steward himself, has dismissed the union-breaking
claims as “nonsense” and pointed to a recent deal with
Unite-affiliated customer services staff as proof that other sections of the
organisation are willing to co-operate in cost-cutting plans.

The dispute erupted a year ago after the airline
unilaterally reduced crew numbers on flights, but Unite has now accepted the
changes by dropping them from negotiations.

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