Second wave set to join BA stoppage

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The Independent Online
British Airways last night faced the prospect of further stoppages by 9,000 ground staff after a second day of action by cabin crew caused severe disruption to flights at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Although the airline claimed that it had managed to get 20 per cent more flights into the air from Heathrow, that still only saw 69 services operating - a paltry chunk of the 200-plus take-offs in the timetable.

Amid the chaos of the three-day strike by stewards and stewardesses, leaders of BA's airport workers were also considering whether to set the date for the first of a series of walk-outs in protest at the sell-off of the airline's catering division.

Union sources said the 1,400 workers - also with the Transport & General Workers Union - directly affected by the planned sale had thrown out fresh proposals from management giving additional guarantees about their terms and conditions after the division is sold off.

Although BA has trained managers to take over the duties of ground staff and recruited alternative personnel to service aeroplanes, industrial action by a second group of employees would cause far worse disruption. BA has already been forced into hiring aircraft replete with crews to staff key services.

Operations manager Michael Street said that BA had chartered seven aircraft, complete with crews, to help combat the strike - and would have brought in more if they could have done.

George Ryde, the union's national officer for the civil-aviation industry, was "surprised" over BA's decision to lease seven planes yesterday.

"Many of their own aircraft have been left unused because of the strike. The only reason for leasing others would be for their cabin crew," Mr Ryde said.

The airline claimed that more staff turned up for work and 20 per cent more flights got away than Wednesday.

However, the number of stewards and stewardesses phoning in sick increased to 1,700, leading to cancellations at Heathrow and Gatwick.

BA also warned that flights would continue to be hit after the end of the strike on Saturday morning.

Executives said they had run all the services they had planned yesterday and hoped to increase flights by 20 per cent again today.

They pointed out that the airline had managed to get five domestic services off the ground and increase the number of long-haul flights from Heathrow from 22 on Wednesday to 25 yesterday.

The TGWU, which represents the cabin crew, pointed out that the same proportion of Heathrow flights were grounded yesterday as on Wednesday.

Behind the scenes, the Acas conciliation service kept in contact with both sides in an attempt to solve the cabin-crew dispute, which centres on the imposition of a pay package.

Management continued to hint privately that it might be prepared to consider union proposals to save pounds 42m, but the union was sceptical about the seriousness of their intentions.

The union believes the company wants to be seen as "doing something" to resolve the conflict before its annual general meeting next Tuesday.

Company sources, however, said that they were serious about seeking a solution and that the union had so far been obstructive.

John Monks, TUC general secretary, took the "very exceptional step" of writing to the airline's non-executive directors, urging them to use their influence to encourage substantive negotiations.