Adonis warns Unite over strike threat to BA's future

Lord Adonis yesterday became the first senior Labour minister to publicly criticise the Unite trade union, saying the move was "totally unjustified", not just because of the damage to passengers but "the threat it poses to the future of one of our great companies".

BA's cabin crew are to walk out for seven days this month after the trade union Unite failed to come to an agreement with the company over cost-cutting measures and pay. Should the strikes go ahead, they would "threaten the very existence of British Airways", Lord Adonis said. Unite hit back, saying the minister "appears badly informed".

This is the first time a Labour minister has taken such a hard line over the strike. Last night it was reported that Gordon Brown had also intervened in the dispute, calling Tony Woodley, Unite's joint general secretary, to discuss potential solutions.

Some, including the Conservative Party, have drawn attention to the fact that Unite is Labour's largest single donor, last year handing the party £3.6m. Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, will this week accuse Labour of becoming "a wholly owned subsidiary of the trade union movement".

Cabin crew staff are set to strike for three days on Saturday and then another four days the following week, marking the first industrial action at the company in 13 years. If the two sides fail to agree, there will be further industrial action in April. BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, accused staff of "trying to break the company" last week.

Despite his criticism of the strike action, Lord Adonis revealed yesterday that the two sides could still strike a deal: "They came very, very close to an agreement last week, so close that I believe that if they could continue these negotiations in a constructive way it would be possible to call this strike off," he said. "[The union] should call off the strike. They should get back into negotiations with British Airways again. In this short window I implore the union to get together with the management and to see whether, at this late stage, a solution can be found."

This came after Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of Unite, called on BA to reopen negotiations yesterday. He said Mr Walsh should "cool the rhetoric and get back around the table" to head off the strike.

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