No progress on BA talks as cabin crew strikes continue

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The Independent Online

The current round of the British Airways cabin crew strike heads into its final day today with little sign of progress after the most recent set of talks broke down late on Tuesday.

Both sides are waiting for further talks to be arranged by Acas, the conciliation service, in the run-up to the final five-day walkout, which starts on Saturday.

Yesterday, Unite claimed the strike had cost the airline £112m so far. Loss-making BA has not put a figure on the three phases of the current industrial action, though it has said that two stoppages in March totalling seven days cost it £43m.

The flag carrier yesterday vociferously rebuffed a Manchester Business School report, picked up by Unite, claiming that the company stands to lose £1.4bn in sales as travellers take their business elsewhere. "Once again, Unite is playing fantasy figures in a desperate attempt to keep up the spirits of the minority of cabin crew who support its failing strike," the airline said.

BA has stressed throughout that increasing numbers of cabin crew are turning up for work as normal. All flights from Gatwick and London City airports are running as normal, and from Heathrow around 70 per cent of long-haul and 55 per cent of short-haul flights are unaffected – up from 60 per cent and 50 per cent during the first phase of the strike, last week. Some 65,000 people are flying as planned, which is around three-quarters of all booked to travel.

The two sides appear to have reached a compromise position on the original year-long dispute, over cabin crew jobs, pay and conditions. But they are locked in a stand-off over the withdrawal of travel concessions from striking staff and allegations of bullying. BA says it has offered to reinstate the travel perks, but only as part of a final deal.

Even after the end of the strike next Wednesday, BA's problems are not over. Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of Unite, said this week that another ballot could be convened as early as next week to enable further industrial action if there is no deal. The ballot could take as long as five weeks to conduct, but it would renew the strike mandate.

Rival Virgin Atlantic was yesterday trumpeting the fact it is flying England's World Cup squad out to South Africa. BA says it turned down the offer to fly the team on cost grounds earlier this year, in a decision unrelated to its industrial-relations issues.

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