BA chief's overture as more air chaos looms

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The Independent Online
A whiff of compromise in the British Airways cabin-crew dispute was in the air yesterday as the industrial action caused a third day of severe disruption.

The airline managed to get 76 flights aloft yesterday, less than 35 per cent of the scheduled timetable from Heathrow. Gatwick lost 12 services - because cabin-crew staff there belong to "EuroGatwick", formerly Dan Air, which pays staff even less than the proposed BA deal.

The walk-out by cabin crew forced British Airways to cancel hundreds of flights and left tens of thousands of people stranded. Things do not look much better this weekend for Heathrow. Because many planes are out of "position", BA say only 90 short-haul services and 75 per cent of long- haul flights will operate.

Management also hoped for fresh talks yesterday to avert separate strikes by 9,000 ground staff after the rejection of a new management offer. Further action by cabin crew coupled with ground staff could ground BA's fleet. Bob Ayling, BA's chief executive, called on the Transport and General Workers Union to put forward their proposals to settle the dispute involving stewards and stewardesses, who came to the end of a three-day walk-out at 6am this morning.

In a letter to Bill Morris, TGWU general secretary, Mr Ayling asked to see the union's plans to save pounds 42m in cabin-crew costs, the issue at the centre of the conflict, which has led to the threat of a series of three- day stoppages. If the suggestions are "realistic" Mr Ayling said he would be happy to meet the TGWU and breakaway union Cabin Crew 89 to work out a deal. It would have to be "acceptable to all parties" and "better" than the deal already signed by the minority union and imposed on all employees.

George Ryde, national official for Civil Aviation for the transport union, hoped management would rescind a threat to suspend strikers arriving back at work today if they refused to work normally. Talks would only be possible if his members were not "victimised".

But BA executives told reporters yesterday that crew would have to sign a "non-disruption" pledge. The company said it will also question the 1,900 staff who called in sick. Those unable to produce a doctor's note will have to "explain themselves".

Despite strained relations, Mr Ryde welcomed the management gesture and said his union would look again at its existing suggestions, which management calculated would only save pounds 26m.

A decision on more stoppages by cabin crew is scheduled for Monday, when representatives of ground staff will also decide whether to set dates for the start of their own campaign. There were indications yesterday, however, that management would be prepared to improve the offer to catering staff. The company plans to sell the catering division, and the transport union opposes this. The airline has offered employees substantial guarantees about future conditions.

The new moves towards a peace formula emerged yesterday after Mr Morris said the end of cabin crews' three-day strike would enable both sides to "pause for peace". Mr Ayling sent him a letter arguing that while the imposed deal represented the best way through, he would be prepared to look at further TGWU suggestions.

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