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BA crews accept new deal

British Airways cabin crew signalled the end of their bitter 18-month dispute with the airline today, removing the threat of fresh strikes this summer.

A mass meeting of Unite members voted almost unanimously to put a new deal to a ballot of around 7,000 workers, with a recommendation to accept.

Union leaders said they believe there will be a huge vote in favour when the result is known next month, finally bringing to an end one of the longest-running industrial disputes for years.

More than 1,000 Unite members met in a marquee close to Heathrow Airport to be told that the main areas of dispute had been resolved following weeks of talks between general secretary Len McCluskey and BA chief executive Keith Williams.

Under the agreement, travel concessions removed from cabin crew who took part in 22 days of strikes last year will be restored from July.

Disciplinary action taken against dozens of Unite members will be referred to the conciliation service Acas, ending another sticking point to a peace deal.

Mr McCluskey said a two-year pay rise had also been agreed, giving rises of 4% this year and 3.5% next year, subject to productivity agreements.

BA said it was pleased the threat of industrial action had been removed, adding that the agreed changes will modernise industrial relations.

Mr McCluskey praised the cabin crew for their "determination and solidarity" and also welcomed the efforts of Mr Williams, who took over from Willie Walsh last year following BA's merger with Spanish carrier Iberia.

He said: "We are recommending this deal because we believe it is an honourable settlement. There is a change within the management psyche at BA, driven by the chief executive. If we embrace that, we are confident that the future will be good."

Mr McCluskey, who was loudly applauded by the cabin crew, many wearing their BA uniform, said Unite wanted to help build up the airline's reputation and brand, which he admitted had been damaged by the dispute.

Industrial action would have been called within days if the deal had not been negotiated, it is understood.

"We look forward to working with the company to repair the wounds and to make sure that BA has a strong reputation as an iconic British company, going from strength to strength."

During the hour-long mass meeting, there were loud cheers when Mr McCluskey reminded the cabin crew that Mr Walsh had moved on to run the merged organisation, while the workers had remained.

A BA spokesman said: "On behalf of our customers, we are very pleased the threat of industrial action has been lifted and that we have reached a point where we can put this dispute behind us.

"Our agreement with Unite involves acknowledgement by the union that the cost-saving structural changes we have made in cabin crew operations are permanent.

"We have also agreed changes that will modernise our crew industrial relations and help ensure that this kind of dispute cannot occur again.

"British Airways cabin crew are rightly renowned for their professionalism and skills.

"Our airline has a great future, and everyone within it intends to move forward together."

Mr McCluskey, who took over as leader of Unite last year, said: "We always said that this dispute could only be settled by negotiation, not by confrontation or litigation, and so it has proved.

"We are delighted to have reached an agreement which I believe recognises the rights and dignity of cabin crew as well as the commercial requirements of the company. This agreement will allow us to go forward in partnership together to strengthen this great British company - good news for BA, its employees and its customers alike.

"I am particularly pleased that staff travel concessions will be restored in full with the signing of the agreement and the implementation of the new structure for working together that we have negotiated. A customer-oriented business can only succeed with all its employees valued and respected."

During the mass meeting, held in private, Mr McCluskey said the union felt it had gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson, but was still standing.

To ram home the point, Elton John's I'm Still Standing was played on loudspeakers after the vote was taken.

Fewer than 30 of those present voted against putting the agreement to a ballot.