Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, is today expected to authorise a series of 24-hour strikes in the wake of a vote for disruption. The industrial action would take place at a time when most schools are breaking up and families are going on holiday.
Cabin staff are angry that a decision by the airline to create a new subsidiary to employ them, would allegedly give them inferior conditions and cost them up to pounds 3,000 a year in lost pay.
Union leaders have not chosen the first date for action, but a mass meeting today at Gatwick and further meetings during the week at Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow airports, almost certainly means that the first 24-hour strike cannot be mounted until next week. However, union leaders are keen to stage the first stoppage as early as possible.
George Ryde, the union's national aviation secretary, said the cabin crew would take no pleasure in disrupting holiday flights, but the company was attempting to make them work for less money.
'British Airways have destroyed at least one rain forest in a propaganda campaign aimed at dissuading employees from action, but they have failed,' Mr Ryde said, adding that TGWU members had been sent daily bulletins from management.
In a 70 per cent turn-out union members have voted by a majority of 53 per cent to take action, a previous ballot giving a 67 per cent mandate for disruption having been declared unlawful on a technicality.
'If such a margin is good enough to elect a government it's good enough to authorise industrial action,' Mr Ryde said.
Legal action by the union to prevent management engaging on a 'transfer of undertakings' to the new subsidiary failed.
However, lawyers acting for the union took some encouragement from the fact that the judge indicated the company might be open to challenge over breach of contract. The union is now planning fresh court proceedings.
Unofficial management sources described the mass meetings as a 'delaying tactic' because of the small majority in favour of strikes. Although staff in Birmingham and Manchester had voted for action, their colleagues in London had rejected it, the sources said.
A spokeswoman for BA said the company had received no official confirmation of the strike vote and that the management would do everything in its power to maintain a normal service.
The BA spokeswoman said the present operation was incurring losses, and after seven months of talks employee representatives had agreed that there was a need to reduce costs. It is understood that ground crew and flight deck staff have already agreed new employment conditions.