BA agrees to pay strike leaders in bid to defuse dispute

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British Airways acted quickly yesterday to stop its dispute with cabin crew becoming more embittered when it agreed to pay the union representatives who led last week's 72-hour strike.

The decision was an about-turn after earlier fears that the airline managers were imposing a "lock-out" on cabin crews attempting to return to work after the damaging stoppage. BA sent many of them home without pay, saying there was no work for them.

The Transport and General Union Workers Union (TGWU) said the move would wreck peace negotiations before they had even begun. To defuse the situation, BA decided that stewards and stewardesses who also acted as union representatives would be paid, so as to help negotiate a settlement. A BA spokesman said: "Once an employee is doing his duties he is paid and the union representative's duty is to attend meetings - it's part of their wider work responsibilities."

TGWU leaders expressed confidence that a similar decision would be taken on behalf of ordinary union members who had also been ordered home. George Ryde, a TGWU national official, said that when all the employees who had been sent home were taken back the stalled peace moves would resume.

He added that he hoped the management's less hard-line approach was not simply an attempt to attract favourable media coverage ahead of the airline's annual general meeting on Tuesday.

Michael Coleman, general secretary of the TGWU's cabin- crew union, Bassa, said its members would be returning to work emboldened by last week's strike and were ready for another round of confrontation if necessary.

"This was the difficult one and it was successful. The people have got more resolve, having gone over the top once before," he said.

In a separate dispute involving 9,000 ground staff, employees voted against a new package, and union representatives are scheduled to set dates for strikes on Monday. A BA spokeswoman said the number of scheduled flights getting off the ground was "gradually creeping up" after the three- day strike ended at 6am yesterday, although travellers would be affected by cancellations until the middle of the week.