British Airways faces massive disruption in the new year after leaders of 11,000 cabin crew called a ballot on industrial action over a "serious breakdown" in industrial relations.
The airline could face a series of 24-hour strikes after the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) accused Willie Walsh, the airline's chief executive, of introducing "macho management" practices.
Employees' representatives accuse the company of putting pressure on staff to work when they are unwell, driving down wage rates and eroding terms and conditions.
Steve Hart, the union's regional secretary, said BA's success and reputation had been built on a loyal workforce. "While profits and share prices rocket, cabin crew have seen their terms and conditions attacked, and imposition from management rather than negotiation. They justifiably feel aggrieved and do not take this decision lightly.
"It is a serious breakdown of industrial relations. We remain convinced that a negotiated solution is possible but I urge BA management to act to resolve this dispute."
Mr Walsh called for a meeting with Tony Woodley, general secretary of the T&G, to discuss the issues. He said that Bassa, the cabin crew section of the T&G, had broken off talks and said he was "disappointed" that industrial action was being threatened.
The airline had been talking to its two cabin crew trade unions on changes that would contribute to the airline's drive for a £450m cut in costs by March 2008.
Mr Walsh said: "Bassa has remained opposed to key elements of our business plan. Indeed, many of the requests put forward by Bassa would prevent any change to working arrangements and add millions of pounds to our employee costs."