BA faces strike over work practices and pensions

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The Independent Online

British Airways was facing industrial action on two fronts yesterday after leaders of thousands of ground staff rejected a pensions deal and most of the airline's cabin crew opted to walk out over new working practices.

More than 11,000 stewards and stewardesses are understood to have voted for stoppages over a "breakdown in industrial relations" which could ground the overwhelming majority of BA flights this month.

In a separate dispute over pensions, shop stewards belonging to the GMB general union, which represents check-in staff and baggage handlers, decided unanimously to reject a proposal to deal with the airline's £2.1bn pensions deficit.

Ed Blissett, a senior official at the GMB, said the union was "extremely angry and disappointed" about BA's plan because it disadvantaged the lowest paid in comparison with the better-paid pilots. The union, which says it has 4,500 members at the airline, will recommend members that vote against the BA blueprint in a consultative ballot and opt for industrial action.

By contrast, representatives of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) unanimously accepted the proposals which involve later retirement, increased contributions and a £800m one-off cash injection into the pension fund by the company. The 3,000 members of the association will be urged to vote for the proposals in a ballot which ends on 9 February.

Amicus, which represents thousands of engineers at BA, said its shop stewards will meet on 22 January to decide whether to accept the proposal. A subsequent consultative ballot will take about three and a half weeks.

A spokesman for the Transport and General Workers' Union, which represents cabin crew and ground workers, said the organisation's officials were still involved in meetings with shop stewards and would decide whether to recommend the deal in the middle of next week.

A spokesman for BA said the company was disappointed by the GMB's decision. "We have just concluded 16 months of talks by accepting a proposal put forward by the trade unions," he said.

"The GMB is the smallest of the four trade unions that make up the BA Forum which issued a joint statement last Friday undertaking to recommend the proposal."

The airline said it welcomed the decision by leaders of Balpa to recommend acceptance of changes to future pension benefits.

BA said the proposed deal was aimed at securing a final-salary pension arrangement for 33,000 members of the pension scheme.

The separate ballot result among BA's 11,000 cabin crew is due to be announced on Monday, but it was known that after ballot papers were counted yesterday that there was a clear majority in favour of strikes over a range of issues.

Cabin crew have accused Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA, of introducing "macho management" practices, pushing staff to work when unwell, driving down wage rates and eroding terms and conditions.

Management has been talking to stewards' representatives about cost-cutting measures as part of its drive to axe expenditure by £450m by March next year.