Heathrow threatened with further strikes as BA takes hard line

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The Independent Online

British Airways check-in staff at Heathrow threatened to stage a second walkout today as talks continued in an attempt to solve their four-day-old dispute.

The unofficial action was sparked by the airline's decision to introduce a new swipe card system for clocking on but, after more than 500 staff walked out at the weekend causing massive disruption, introduction of the plan has been postponed.

Nevertheless, a spokesman for the airline said there was no intention to delay implementing the system any longer and it will be introduced today.

All three unions involved in the talks said last night they would organise a lawful ballot on industrial action if management carried out the threat but that could be pre-empted today if check-in staff walk out.

A spokeswoman for Amicus, one of the unions involved, said: "Management is showing complete disregard, not only for their workforce, but their passengers. They have been so arrogant."The airline said the swipe cards would simply replace a paper system and would enable management to ascertain, for safety and security reasons, who was on the premises at any one time. Check-in staff however are suspicious of the company's motives, believing it will be used to introduce "annualised hours" where staff would be stood down when the airport was not busy and called in at peak times.

Last night, Rod Eddington, the chief executive of BA, offered an "unreserved" apology to the passengers who faced delays and cancellations.

"This was an unofficial action," he told the BBC. "It came to us on Friday at the beginning of the school holidays when all our aeroplanes are full, and everyone else's are full. A lot of our customers had a really terrible time and I apologise to them unreservedly."

BA announced last night it was finally clearing its backlog of passengers after a weekend in which more than 500 flights were cancelled and more than 80,000 people stranded. Some 700 travellers were still waiting yesterday but the carrier said they would all fly out last night. Airport authorities ­ normally happy to grant media access ­ ejected journalists who were collecting stories of misery.