BA hires 200 more staff for Heathrow

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The Independent Online

British Airways was forced to admit yesterday that its cost-cutting drive has been too aggressive by hiring 200 more check-in staff at Heathrow to avoid a repeat of the flights chaos that hit the airline in August.

British Airways was forced to admit yesterday that its cost-cutting drive has been too aggressive by hiring 200 more check-in staff at Heathrow to avoid a repeat of the flights chaos that hit the airline in August.

The extra employees will increase BA's customer service staffing levels at the airport by about 10 per cent and are in addition to the 216 new airport terminal staff that the airline announced in August it would be recruiting.

The move follows BA's announcement earlier this month that it is cutting almost 1,000 flights from Heathrow over the winter months to cope with congestion and a lack of resources at the airport.

BA has cut 13,000 jobs since the terrorist attacks of September 2001 as part of a £850m cost-saving exercise and is looking for further cutbacks over the next two years as part of a new £300m efficiency plan. But Rod Eddington, BA's chief executive, conceded that this had resulted in staff shortages in some areas of the business. Referring to the reasons for the disruption in August, when BA was forced to cancel scores of flights, he said: "There were operational and technical difficulties that day involving runway closures and a lack of stand-by aircraft, but a shortage of staff to help our customers was a significant one and we have addressed that as an absolute priority."

Despite the chaos on the day, Mr Eddington has decided that no heads need to roll among management. "Rod took the view that no one person or part of the business was to blame so it would be unfair to single people out."

When BA announced its first-quarter results at the beginning of August, it warned that the £300m cost saving target "remains a challenge in light of the industrial relations environment". At the time, BA was facing a strike threat by ground staff. This was resolved with the signing of a new three-year pay deal, part of which involves a move to tackle BA's high levels of absenteeism. The airline is seeking, over the next 12 months, to cut the number of days its employees take off from an average of 17 to 10.

The airline believes that "sickies" are responsible for a significant proportion of missed days and remains concerned about certain working practices such as staff clocking off early in areas of the airport.

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