BA finds peace formula: For British workers in 1993 the battle is to prevent employers imposing reductions in their wages and worse working conditions

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A PEACE deal in the British Airways pay and conditions dispute came too late last night to avert flight disruption today caused by a 24-hour strike of members of the Transport and General Workers Union, writes Martin Whitfield.

Services were already being cancelled when negotiators emerged with a formula to be recommended by union leaders to a shop stewards' meeting this morning.

BA also faces further action from pilots who have voted by 5-1 to strike, on a date to be fixed, over the same issue of lower pay and conditions at a new Gatwick subsidiary.

George Ryde, TGWU national officer, hoped disruption would be minimal but passengers at Heathrow and Gatwick are likely to suffer delays even if the peace package is accepted by representatives of the 17,000 workers.

British Airways hoped more than half its long haul flights would go ahead but many domestic services and short-haul flights to Europe will face delay and cancellation. Passengers are being offered flights on other airlines, rescheduled BA dates, or money back. Other airlines had seats available on many routes while British Rail was expecting extra business.

Mr Ryde said he would be urging stewards to accept the deal, which guaranteed job security and protected pay and conditions, and was hopeful that they would.

The one-day strike had been called over BA's imposition of worse wages and conditions at the Gatwick subsidiary. The union said workers in the company, European Operations Gatwick, would be paid 30 per cent less than BA staff at Heathrow.

Chris Darke, general secretary of the British Air Line Pilots Association, said his union's vote demonstrated the strength of ill-feeling, with pilots standing to see wages for a senior officer reduced from pounds 72,000 to pounds 45,000.

The ballot showed 2,153 supporting the strike and 402 against in a 92 per cent poll. Both unions feared lower wages would be gradually spread throughout the group.

The TGWU, whose members cover jobs from cabin crew and baggage handlers to check-in clerks and maintenance workers, said BA had agreed to renegotiate terms for all staff at Gatwick. Those agreeing to join the subsidiary would receive enhanced compensation and the offer of alternative jobs within BA. 'What we have got is a commitment from the company that there will be no further subsidiaries created or contracting out,' he added.

BA said it was pleased a settlement had been reached, but added: 'We've got no alternative but to offer a truncated programme tomorrow.' The degree of disruption to services would decline if shop stewards accept their leadership's recommendation to end the strike. The company maintained that no new offer had been made but there had been a 're-emphasis' of assurances.