BA backs down on swipe cards to settle dispute

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The Independent Online

The dispute that caused massive disruption to British Airways flights was expected to be settled today after the airline provisionally agreed to drop the imposition of an electronic clocking-on system for check-in staff.

The airline's negotiators indicated that they were prepared to award the 2,500 employees at Heathrow and Gatwick a 3 per cent pay increase without them agreeing to a "swipe card'' system. Until last night, the wage increase was dependent on staff accepting the new procedure.

Talks betweenBA and the three unions involved were adjourned until noon today, but management was thought to be anxious to reach a settlement before the announcement tomorrow of substantial pre-tax losses in the first quarter of the year.

A two-day unofficial walk-out by check-in staff at Heathrow brought chaos for tens of thousands of passengers and is thought to have cost BA about £50m. The airline agreed not to impose the swipe cards provided the three unions - the Transport and General Workers' union, the GMB and Amicus - indicated a positive attitude towards talks on improving productivity.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, who brokered the talks between the airline and union leaders, said after more than 12 hours of negotiations that he was optimistic that a settlement would be achieved.

It became increasingly clear that the airline would have to drop the swipe card system which had caused concern among the overwhelmingly female check-in staff. While management insisted that employees habitually clocked their colleagues in and out, staff said they were concerned the new system would be used to introduce flexible shifts which would disrupt their childcare arrangements.

A peace formula would mean that unions will drop plans for a ballot on official industrial action which could have caused renewed disruption later this summer.