BA cabin crew vote for series of strikes

Call for three-day walk-outs comes as airline tries to avert separate action by ground staff
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The Independent Online
Cabin crew at British Airways last night voted in favour of a series of three-day strikes in their five-month-old dispute over pay and conditions.

The recommendation for a series of 72-hour strikes, made at a meeting near Heathrow airport, will be put to Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, for approval today. If Mr Morris approves the action he will set the date for the first strike, said a union spokesman.

Cabin crew voted with a 70 per cent majority in favour of strikes, and earlier in the day the airline's ground staff voted to hold a separate strike in protest at BA's planned sale of its catering unit. But Robert Ayling, BA's chief executive, said last night that he was prepared to discuss the terms and conditions of employees at the catering division.

The union had announced that 4,150 of its BA airport workers had voted for strikes in protest at the sell-off, with 2,485 against in a turnout of nearly 70 per cent. Mr Ayling refused to rule out negotiations on a pay and conditions deal imposed on stewards and stewardesses which prompted a 70 per cent vote by cabin crew for action. But prospects for such talks seemed to be less likely.

Mr Morris pointedly remarked that calls for strikes by cabin crew would not be irrevocable and simply constituted a recommendation. Mr Morris reserved the right to take the final responsibility. That could mean action being suspended while talks took place.

Mr Ayling welcomed a letter from the transport union leader which paved the way for talks over the dispute involving ground staff. He said the company had been calling for discussions on the catering sale since 17 April and saw no reason why there should not be a "sensible agreement within the next couple of days". He believed he enjoyed "a good personal relationship" with Mr Morris.

While not ruling out negotiations with cabin crew, he repeated his assertion that their representatives had walked out of talks and pointed out that the minority union, Cabin Crew '89, had accepted the formula. He called on Bassa, the cabin crew section of the transport union, to put aside "militant language" and discuss its future relationship with BA.

If either of the strikes went ahead, Mr Ayling said the airline was determined to keep services operating "as normally as possible", but it was too early to assess what kind of impact industrial action might have on the timetable.

George Ryde, national official of the TGWU, said the 62.5 per cent strike vote by the airline's airport workers, was exceptional given the "ferocious pressure and intimidation" they had suffered at the hands of management. He accused the company of industrial "terrorism".

Managers had told his members that they had been instructed to threaten them with dire consequences if they opted for walkouts. He warned that there could be safety implications if newly recruited strike breakers helped to operate aircraft. The pounds 300 a day some of them had been offered, would be welcomed by his own members.

Mr Ryde called on the company to negotiate "in an adult and mature way" so that the threat of strikes could be lifted.

The T&G official warned that the action would not be limited to Britain and that he had elicited support from abroad.