BA crews to vote on latest offer in 18-month dispute

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The Independent Online

British Airways cabin crews are to vote on whether to accept the latest deal in the 18-month-long industrial dispute with the company's management. The Unite trade union said the airline's offer was the product of "prolonged negotiations" and would be put to the union's 10,000 cabin crew members "as soon as possible".

Neither BA nor Unite has gone public with any details of the latest proposals, although they are understood to constitute an improvement of the terms offered in the last deal. The dispute has resulted in 22 days of strikes so far this year, at a cost to BA of about £150m.

Over the course of the row – which started in spring 2009 – the focus has shifted from workers' original opposition to changes to their terms and conditions, including cutting numbers of attendants on international flights.

The biggest sticking point now is over disciplinary measures taken by the airline during the industrial action and the withdrawal of travel perks to striking crew members.

Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of Unite, said the latest offer was "the best that can be achieved through negotiation in the current climate". He has been personally involved in many of the talks with BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, brokered by the conciliation service Acas.

"Our members, who have shown exemplary solidarity and discipline throughout this long and bitter dispute, will now decide whether this offer meets their requirements," Mr Woodley said.

BA described the deal as "very fair and reasonable" and representing "a genuine solution to the remaining issues in the dispute".

The outcome of the ballot, which could start next week, will rely on support from the hardline British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa), the branch of Unite specifically for BA cabin crew.

Bassa has played a key role throughout the increasingly acrimonious dispute. Mr Walsh has repeatedly blamed the organisation for rejecting its peace offerings, while Mr Woodley accused Mr Walsh last summer of pursuing an agenda of "regime change".

So far, Bassa has remained ambivalent about BA's latest offer, telling members only that the proposals were sufficiently new to warrant a ballot.

The Bassa secretary, Duncan Holley, told members: "It is now up to you: if you vote against the offer, the dispute goes on; if you vote to accept, the dispute is over."

Earlier this week, at an Association of British Travel Agents conference, Mr Walsh retained his strident tone and described the row as "entirely" the fault of the unions.