More than 9,000 ground staff at Heathrow and Gatwick have voted for industrial action by a margin of around 70 per cent - similar to the outcome of a ballot among cabin crew announced on Wednesday. The result of the vote by airport workers is due to be disclosed on Monday.
While the two sets of employees are involved in separate disputes, it is virtually certain that the action would be co-ordinated to put the maximum pressure on management.
Tony Blair has kept in close contact with developments through his friendship with Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and Bob Ayling, chief executive of BA, who is acting as a government adviser on business issues. Both sides have been left in no doubt that ministers want to avoid an economically damaging conflict, and officials from conciliation service Acas have already met with senior representatives of the union.
The ground workers are protesting over the sell-off of the airline's catering division, which employs 1,400 staff, and cabin crew are fighting a new pay and productivity package which is being imposed by management.
It is thought that the company might seek to drive a wedge between airport personnel and stewards and stewardesses. Catering staff, many of them from the Indian sub-continent, are particularly angry that a sell-off would eventually mean they would lose their concessionary travel. The company might seek to give them additional guarantees to allay their fears.
On Monday, cabin-crew representatives are due to decide on the form of industrial action, to be followed by a similar meeting of airport shop stewards on Tuesday. In the absence of a settlement, it is thought that they will opt for stoppages of 24- to 48-hours' duration. Under the law, unions have to give employers seven days' notice of walk-outs, so that strikes could begin on Tuesday week.
The threat of stoppages has already meant that corporate travel companies have been seeking to book clients with other airlines. Even if the industrial action is called off next week, the company will have lost millions of pounds.
Management is expected to send out warnings to airport personnel this weekend warning them of the consequences of strikes. Cabin crew have already been told that they could face the sack for walking out and the airline argues they could also be held personally responsible for losses.
Elaborate arrangements have been made to keep aircraft flying in the event of a strike. Non-trade unionists and members of the breakaway Cabin Crew '89 union are being offered protection from militant pickets so that they can continue to come into work. Managers and temporary personnel have been trained to take over the jobs of strikers.
t Barclays Bank is threatened with disruption after staff voted for a ballot on industrial action in protest at a proposed pay package. Members of two unions will now vote on whether to mount a campaign of action including three-day strikes, overtime bans and a work-to-rule. The unions claim a membership of nearly 40,000 out of a workforce of up to 60,000.