Flights back on after BA averts strike

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The Independent Online

British Airways was tonight reinstating flights from Heathrow and Gatwick airports after a dramatic last-gasp deal averted a planned two-day strike by thousands of its cabin crew.

The airline said all its long haul services will run from the two airports over the next two days and it will operate as many domestic and European flights as possible.

The company had cancelled all its Heathrow flights and grounded most of its Gatwick services for tomorrow and Wednesday because of the planned industrial action by stewards and stewardesses.

But a deal was finally agreed after more than 120 hours of talks between the company and the Transport and General Workers Union.

BA's chief executive Willie Walsh and the union's general secretary Tony Woodley appeared alongside each other outside a central London hotel to announce the breakthrough.

Negotiators remained inside the hotel throughout the weekend - some did not even venture outside until this afternoon - to thrash out an agreement on sickness absence, pay, staffing and pensions.

Under the deal, cabin crew will receive a two-year wage rise worth 4.6% this year and the rate of inflation in year two.







A pay "ceiling" on cabin crew who joined the company after 1997 has been removed, increasing wages from £15,748 to £19,418 when the 4.6% is paid.

The union will also now recommend changes to the pension scheme aimed at tackling a huge deficit of £2.1billion.

Mr Walsh denied that the company had "caved in" to the union and said he believed the deal was the basis of a firm foundation for future industrial relations.

"Unfortunately the decision has come too late to prevent disruption to the travel plans of tens of thousands of our customers tomorrow and Wednesday.

"We will attempt to reinstate as many flights as we can for those days.

"I am really proud of the work our cabin crew do and this agreement will allow us to build for a much stronger future. It is a positive outcome."

Mr Woodley said the negotiations had been "very difficult", adding: "We have had to try to solve a multitude of problems that have built up over a long period of time.

"We have managed to get an agreement that lays to rest some of our cabin crew's complaints about the way sickness absence was being managed."

Mr Woodley said the deal ended the "two tier" wage structure which had led to complaints that workers joining after 1997 were stuck at the top of their pay scale after a few years service.

Mr Woodley went on: "The most important thing is that the cabin crew have regained the respect they are entitled to have.

Both sides said there had been a "very frank" exchange of views during the talks, which were held throughout the weekend and finished at lunchtime today.

Mr Walsh said: "I am very satisfied that the agreement is fair and represents a solid foundation for working together. This is an outcome for the future and I am really pleased."

Cabin crew had complained that under a new sickness absence policy they were forced to report for duty even when they were ill.

Union officials said they were now happy that the policy, introduced 18 months ago, would be implemented fairly and staff would not feel obliged to go to work if they were sick.

BA said it had to take action after the average number of days off taken by cabin crew grew to 22. That figure has now been cut to 12 although it's still higher than the UK average of seven.

BA is still likely to lose millions of pounds because most of its customers due to travel on Tuesday and Wednesday will already have made alternative arrangements.

The airline was hurriedly posting details on its website and said it would give as much information as it can tonight on which flights will operate.



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