BA cabin crew accuse T&G union boss of 'selling out' over strike

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The head of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Tony Woodley, is to face the wrath of British Airways cabin crew furious at the way they believe the union leadership "sold out" in last week's deal to avert a strike.

Mr Woodley, the union's general secretary, had been due to appear today before a mass meeting of cabin crew at a hotel near Heathrow to defend the settlement, but it has been delayed for a week in an attempt to allow tempers to cool.

Members of the British Airways Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa), a branch of the T&G, are angry at what they see as the failure of union negotiators to extract sufficient concessions from the airline's management.

Mr Woodley personally led the negotiations with BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, although the deal was accepted only after a vote by the Bassa branch committee. The Bassa website had to be shut down for a period last week because of the level of vitriol directed at union officials and in particular its chairman Mike Conroy.

In an e-mail to Bassa's 11,000 members, the branch secretary, Duncan Holley, wrote: "I cannot now accept or tolerate the abuse that is being handed out towards them on the forum.

"I have worked with Mike [Conroy] for 10 years now and he has fought with all his might to protect you the membership. His position has put him in the forefront and he is now being villified publicly for having the courage of his convictions. You might not agree, but you simply must not him or his family."

Mr Holley's e-mail ends by saying: "Bassa needs you the membership to be behind it and not fragmenting amongst a torrent of personal abuse. We have enough enemies out there without fighting each other."

The nine-strong Bassa branch committee voted 6-3 to accept the deal, which included a 4.6 per cent pay rise, a £3,000 increase in allowances for cabin crew who had joined the airline after 1997, and changes to the way BA's sick leave policy is applied. Two of those who voted against the deal, the convenor Nigel Stott and deputy convenor Chris Harrison, have subsequently resigned their posts.

The level of unhappiness among cabin crew may be an indicator of further industrial unrest to come. However, Mr Walsh maintains that most cabin crew were satisfied with the deal. "What we are hearing is that the vast majority of cabin crew were relieved and pleased the issue has been resolved. They really did not want to see strike action take place," he said.

A spokesman for the T&G said: "The deal was the best that could be achieved by negotiation. If that sort of offer had been on the table after a strike, we would have accepted it."

On any given day, some 700 of BA's 14,000 cabin crew call in sick, but last Monday the number reached 1,000. BA's annual sickness bill is £16m a year. The airline is forced to employ an extra 600 staff to cover sickness absence.