BA and Unite in last-ditch efforts to stave off strikes

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The government will weigh into the British Airways strike dispute this morning in a last-ditch attempt to head off plans for a series of four, five-day stoppages due to start tomorrow.

The flagcarrier and the trade union Unite have agreed in principle on the original dispute of pay and working practices for the airline's cabin crews. But there is a stand-off over the restoration of travel perks for staff who participated in earlier industrial action last month.

Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, will meet with representatives from both sides this week to try to solve the increasingly poisonous row. BA and Unite are also set for an afternoon meeting at the Acas conciliation service. But Tony Woodley, the Unite joint general secretary, played down hopes of a deal at the weekend.

BA will also challenge the strike in the High Court today. The airline hopes to prove the walk-out is illegal, arguing that Unite did not tell members the result of the strike ballot as soon as possible, as required by labour laws.

The airline estimates that the strikes could lose it at least £138m, on top of the £45m cost of the two walk-outs in March.

BA has also been hit by on-going disruption from the volcanic ash cloud, and the on-going fallout from the financial crisis. The company is expected to announce record losses of around £600m when it publishes its annual results at its annual general meeting on Friday.