Pilots angry over BA strike plans

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The Independent Online
The chances of averting an indefinite stoppage by pilots at British Airways seemed remote yesterday with no negotiations in prospect and a row erupting over contingency plans to hire strike-breaking crews.

As BA and the pilots' union engaged in a war of words, London Underground was preparing for a third 24-hour stoppage today. Aslef, the train drivers' union, was still considering an invitation to take the dispute over working hours to conciliation service Acas. Management hoped to run a third of services with non-Aslef drivers.

At the Royal Mail, unions and management continued negotiations yesterday to avoid more disruption following two day-long walkouts over a productivity package. Leaders of the Communication Workers' Union will decide tomorrow whether to escalate the dispute.

Back at British Airways, management yesterday pointed out that some 600 pilots were not in the union and that they would consider recruiting British and foreign pilots to keep as many flights in the air when the stoppage over pay begins on 16 July.

An airline spokeswoman pointed out that although the company wanted to avoid the walkout, management could call on 3,000 pilots who had applied for jobs at BA this year - "if we are pushed into a corner".

Chris Darke, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Assocation, warned that he would use all his union's international contacts to frustrate the plan. The union yesterday contacted the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations in a bid to ensure that overseas crews do not undermine the industrial action.

Mr Darke also spoke to officials of the International Transport Federation asking them to urge their affiliated unions to refuse to handle flights crewed by strike-breakers. He said the company's contingency plans were "doomed to failure" and would only make the action by the union's 3,000 members more likely.

He pointed out that before replacement crews could be used they would have to be assessed by the airline's training pilots, the overwhelming majority of whom were Balpa members and would be on strike. Travellers became increasingly concerned about the dispute over the weekend, but BA and travel agents continued to take bookings.