BA jobs under threat as Tube and Post workers dig in

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Union leaders were warned yesterday of lay-offs among 55,000 workers at British Airways if pilots go on strike in seven days' time.

It is expected that letters will be sent to employees, warning them of the full implications of an indefinite stoppage by flight crews next Tuesday.

In confidential talks, senior figures at the airline have told officials representing back-up staff that the pilots' strike could end up in a final showdown between Bob Ayling, BA's chief executive, and the British Airline Pilots Association.

Union representatives were told that in the last analysis it could mean Mr Ayling's departure from the airline unless the pilots' union was brought into line. The warning raises the stakes at a time when Chris Darke, general secretary of Balpa has initiated fresh talks with BA management.

Meanwhile, tube drivers in London staged their third 24-hour strike over working time. Management said it had improved strike-day services to run nearly 40 per cent of the timetable with the help of the RMT transport union. Future assistance may not be forthcoming, however. Leaders of the RMT are due to announce the result of a strike ballot among their own members tomorrow.

Lew Adams, general secretary of the drivers' union, and his executive are due today to consider an invitation to take the dispute to the conciliation service Acas. The union claims management reneged on a promise to reduce working time, and some members of the executive may argue for further action after the stoppage already scheduled for next Tuesday.

At the Royal Mail, talks continued ahead of today's meeting of the Communication Workers' Union postal executive, which is due to decide whether to intensify industrial action over planned productivity changes - particularly the issue of "team-working". Postal services have already been disrupted by two 24-hour walkouts and some members of the executive are pressing for 48-hour strikes. But Alan Johnson, joint general secretary of the CWU, will argue for further contact with the Post Office.

Mr Darke said he had "positive suggestions" for the new talks with BA that he hoped would lead to progress. An airline spokesman said BA would "listen very carefully" to what Balpa had to say.

Mr Darke's initiative came after a meeting yesterday of 30 Balpa representatives. There has been little contact with management since the strike vote among the 3,000 pilots and other flight crew was announced.

The union had argued that the company should offer an improvement in the 3.6 per cent package before talks could begin. BA has argued that many of the pilots have not understood the company's true position, particularly at Gatwick.

The airline has put forward a two-year package with a 3.6 per cent increase in the first year, followed by a rise of 0.5 per cent above the inflation rate next year. Since the strike-ballot result, BA has offered an additional 10 per cent payment to lower-paid crews at Gatwick.