BA shareholders slam 'fat cat club' bosses

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The Independent Online

British Airways bosses faced strong attacks from shareholders today over their plans to cut costs, with one employee accusing executives of being in the "fat cat club".

Chief executive Willie Walsh and chairman Martin Broughton told the firm's annual meeting in London that it was essential to cut costs because of the huge downturn in air travel caused by the recession.

But a succession of shareholders raised complaints with the board about the company's performance and the measures being proposed to cut costs, including 3,700 job losses and a two year pay freeze.

One shareholder, who also works for BA, accused the management of "corporate greed" for refusing to accept an offer from trade unions to cut costs.

He asked if it was morally acceptable for the "fat cat club" to continue "licking cream" while workers offered to cut their pay and conditions and shareholders saw the value of their investments fall.

He said shareholders were witnessing the demise of the company and especially its premium brand.

Mr Broughton replied that the cost cutting proposals affected the entire company, including the board of directors.

He said the firm was focusing on maintaining services to customers but he spelt out his belief that the downturn in air travel and the need to cut costs were not temporary problems.

"The recession will be temporary but it has left a permanent impact on our business."

Another shareholder and current employee accused Mr Walsh of "talking down" the airline by his warnings that it faced a fight for its survival.

He said the chief executive was bringing the company into "disrepute" and also accused BA of pushing front line staff to the brink of industrial action.

Mr Broughton replied that Mr Walsh had merely been spelling out the problems BA faced and was not misleading anyone, saying he had given a "realistic assessment" of the problems BA was facing.

"We are in a fight for survival - I believe we will survive."

Another shareholder won loud applause from the meeting when he accused BA of denying cabin crew the same conditions as pilots.

"You are showing disrespect to cabin crew. There is no point in saying how wonderful they are and then kicking them in the teeth."

The shareholder also accused BA of rehiring managers who had left the company as consultants and paying them £1,000 a day.

Mr Walsh replied that pilots had a different agreement to other employees, adding that only one former manager had been taken on to help with a problem caused following the loss of 480 management posts in recent months.

Shareholders laughed when Mr Walsh said the ex-manager was reluctant to return and the questioner shouted out "gravy train".

But Mr Walsh said BA had significantly restructured its management, reducing numbers by almost a third, describing the achievement as "incredible".