BA job cuts: 'We were expecting this - there's almost a sense of relief'

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The Independent Online

A "glum sense of inevitability'' hung over British Airways staff yesterday as they waited to hear how the latest round of job cuts would affect them.

At the Heathrow headquarters there was no talk of a once mighty company shedding a devastating number of staff. In the corporate world of BA, senior staff insisted it was a case of creating a "leaner, sleeker" operation.

Early yesterday, Rod Eddington, the company's chief executive, called his most senior managers into a meeting to break the news of the "significant restructuring". Over the next few days, the ramifications will filter though to more junor staff.

The shedding of 5,800 more jobs, bringing the total losses to almost a quarter of the pre- 11 September workforce, was greeted calmly by staff.

One worker emerging from the headquarters said yesterday: "There have been no scenes, no shouting, no screaming, no tears, no nothing. We have been expecting it. There is almost a sense of relief along with apprehension. Right now, they are talking numbers, percentages, and it will be different in a week or two when it becomes personal."

The unions put it more succinctly. Tim Lyle, the national secretary for civil aviation at the Transport and General Workers Union, said: "There was a sense of glum inevitability, though the workforce was stunned by the sheer volume of numbers to be cut, especially at Gatwick." Roger Lyons, general secretary of the manufacturing union Amicus, said the announcement was a "devastating body-blow to its staff".

Staff had been warned not to pay attention to union comments or be swept up in any media "hysteria".

The mood was muted at terminal 4. One customer service agent for BA said: "It's a long time since we believed we had a job for life. Even before 11 September, BA was in a lot of trouble." A middle manager added: "People still have faith. It is all they have to hang onto."

The thrust of the workers' faith was that there would be no compulsory redundancies, with voluntary cuts, early retirement and a package of unpaid leave or part-time work being offered, as had been the case when 7,200 jobs were cut after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

A senior manager described the cuts as a rallying call. "This is a positive way forward, to make the company leaner and give it a really good chance to compete," she said, before adding: "I only hope I am still going to be part of it."