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BA deal to end `Spanish' practices

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As part of a plan to save British Airways nearly pounds 17.5m leaders of ground staff at Heathrow have accepted the need to eradicate old "Spanish practices" and freeze pay, according to internal documents.

Representatives of baggage handlers at the airport believe workers will have to accept electronic devices to monitor attendance and punctuality and will have to forego pay rises for two years from January 1998.

Union leaders are to hold workplace ballots over the next few days to assess support for the proposals, which are part of the company's drive to save pounds 1bn by the year 2000.

The work practices at Heathrow are seen by critics as one of the last bastions in Britain of "Spanish practices", which include being paid for full shifts when fewer hours are worked. According to company sources, employees are sometimes paid for shifts they do not work.

Internal documents make it clear that these new work practices must be introduced without industrial action, therefore amounting to a no-strike pact.

In return for the concessions management has given an assurance that the ground handling operation will not be "outsourced" for the next three years.

Baggage handling was seen as one of the most vulnerable parts of BA to external competition. Company papers make it clear that the jobs guarantee will be continually reviewed. If costs and service performance compare unfavourably with competing baggage handling companies the operation would be given 60 days to improve or face contracting out after a further 30 days.

George Ryde, national official of the Transport and General Workers' Union, refused to comment on the situation at Heathrow. A BA spokesman said TGWU representatives of ground staff had accepted proposals to bring departmental costs into line with competitors.