BA pays price as more vote to strike

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The Independent Online
A third group of workers at British Airways have voted in favour of industrial action, as it emerged yesterday that the airline is losing tens of millions of pounds because of the threat of strikes.

According to a confidential memorandum, senior managers calculated a fortnight ago that the company had already forfeited pounds 60m worth of bookings at what is the busiest time of the year for the industry. One manager estimated that the airline could lose about pounds 400m if the disruption lasted into August - around half next year's projected profits.

As corporate travel agents switched customers away from BA flights, The Independent learnt that more than 3,500 BA ground staff belonging to the GMB general union had voted to join 9,000 members of the Transport and General Workers' Union in strikes over the sell-off of the airline's catering division. The GMB members include key information technology personnel vital to the operation of the airline.

Both unions are considering proposals to soften the impact of the sell- off on catering staff. Many of the employees of the catering division have families in the Indian sub-continent, and management has offered them additional guarantees about discount travel which can be worth thousands of pounds.

Catering staff are being balloted on the proposals, and while a BA spokesman yesterday registered his confidence that the package would be accepted, union sources argued that there would be a decisive "No" vote because employees objected in principle to the sale of the division. The result of the ballot is due mid-week.

A peace formula aimed at averting a separate three-day stoppage planned by 9,000 cabin crew is due to be discussed on Monday at the transport union's annual conference in Brighton.

Union sources blamed the company for the delay in considering the offer, alleging that cabin crew representatives had been refused time off for union business. A series of three-day walkouts by stewards and stewardesses, in protest at the imposition of a pay package, is due to begin at 6am on Wednesday.

Both disputes stem from a plan by Robert Ayling, the BA chief executive, to save the company pounds 1bn by 2000 in order to cope with increasing competition.

A spokesman for BA described as "rubbish" contentions that management were refusing to give time off for union representatives to discuss the offer to cabin crew.

"We have been asked to take union representatives off the roster, and that is what we are doing," he said.

He confirmed that the airline was losing money because corporate travel agents were finding alternative airlines for their clients. Contingency plans had also proved a drain on resources.