BA to meet unions after pensions shock

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The Independent Online

British Airways will meet unions tomorrow as the carrier continues to try to stave off industrial action over its gaping £2.1bn pensions deficit.

The T&G, Amicus, GMB and Balpa, the pilots' body, will sit down together with the carrier's management. The talks will focus on how BA can fund the deficit after a shock review last month more than doubled it.

BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, said at the time that tackling the black hole was "one of the biggest challenges" for the carrier. Suggested measures include raising the retirement age of cabin crew and pilots, and capping pension increases for all staff.

But many are unhappy with the proposals, and unions have warned that finding a solution without resorting to strike action will be a lengthy process.

"Willie Walsh wants [agreement] sooner rather than later, but he's got to realise we are dealing with a very complex situation here," said a T&G spokesman. "We want it resolved, but resolved properly. There's no simple solution."

Analysts were shocked by the size of the £2.1bn valuation. The deficit was last valued at £928m three years ago and since then pension contributions by the airline have risen and stock market returns have improved.

"What we have consistently said to BA is that we don't disagree that there's a funding issue," the T&G spokesman added. "But we need to look at the assumptions behind the actuarial position.

"We also need to look at the company as a whole. Is it in crisis? No, it's profitable. At worst, customer numbers are stable and at best they are rising."

Balpa said it was reviewing how the deficit was calculated, adding that "eventually we will take a view".

A BA spokesman said: "The meeting is part of the ongoing consultation period. We remain optimistic and continue to seek an amicable and joint solution."

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