Union urges BA chairman to intervene in dispute

The chairman and board members of British Airways were tonight urged to "use their influence" in a bid to resolve the cabin crew dispute, which descended into a bitter war of words after a weekend of strike action.

Unite and the airline clashed over the impact of the first two days of a three-day walkout, giving wildly different statements about the numbers supporting the action.

Chancellor Alistair Darling said the strike was "totally unnecessary" and continued the government line that the two sides needed to resume talks.

Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite attacked the "macho" management style of chief executive Willie Walsh and said it was time for the airline's chairman Martin Broughton and "sensible" directors to intervene.

He said that despite "propaganda" from BA about the number of staff working during this weekend's strike, he was certain that the vast majority of Unite members were taking industrial action.

"Contrary to the spin from the company about this strike collapsing, only nine cabin crew have broken ranks and 80 have gone sick.

"I am now appealing to the BA chairman and sensible members of the board to use their influence, put passengers first, and return to the negotiating table for the good of everyone.

"It is quite obvious this strike is in no-one's interest. We need a negotiated settlement."

Mr Woodley wrote an open letter to cabin crew congratulating them on their "magnificent" support for the strike, which is due to continue tomorrow, followed by a four day walkout from next Saturday.

"You have stood up and stood strong for your rights, your dignity and your pride in the face of a bullying management and a malicious Tory media," he wrote.

Mr Woodley urged his members: "Stay strong, be brave, don't be intimidated. Don't let the unfair abuse get to you."

Unite said BA claims about the numbers reporting for work were a "distortion" because they included those flying back to the UK from trips which took them out of the country before the strike started.

The union claimed many planes leaving Heathrow were "ghost flights", with no or only a handful of passengers on board and only minimum crew.

BA said it had reinstated a number of cancelled flights this weekend after maintaining that more crew than expected had turned up for work.

BA claimed 1,157 cabin crew ignored the first day of the three-day stoppage yesterday and reported for duty - equivalent to 97% of Gatwick crew and 52.5% of Heathrow crew.

The airline said in a statement: "Our contingency plans are continuing to work well on Sunday at all airports around the world.

"Our revised schedule of departures at Heathrow and Gatwick is going as planned and many aircraft are now departing full.

"We continue to operate a full Boeing 777 longhaul programme from the UK to more than 30 destinations around the world and are adding in several extra Boeing 747 flights, due to the numbers of crew reporting for work.

"This is on top of the nine extra longhaul flights we added into the schedule last night and will include again today.

"We have also added additional shorthaul flights into our schedule at both Heathrow and Gatwick and customers can now book onto these flights.

"Our charter operators are also continuing to work well with good punctuality levels. These flights are being integrated with our own shorthaul flying schedules at Heathrow and Gatwick.

"On Sunday, cabin crew are continuing to report as normal at Gatwick, and Heathrow levels remain above what we need to operate our published schedule. All of our flights at London City remain unaffected."

At Heathrow airport Canadian Stephanie Matteo, 26, faced a 24-hour delay getting home from a holiday with her boyfriend in Thailand because of the strike.

She was waiting in Terminal 5 with all her baggage unable to check it in after the holiday during which her boyfriend proposed.

"When I got to Bangkok I found out my flight to Montreal was cancelled, so they booked me on a flight to London and told me to go to the BA desk," she explained.

"They told me they have a flight to Vancouver later today and then onto Montreal from there and that means I have a 24-hour delay.

"It's a bit frustrating because I want to get home. What's frustrating the most is that the Canadian Dollar is weak against the pound and food and drink here cost three times more."

Diane Huntley, 50, and her daughter Robin, from Maine in America, endured a nine-hour bus trip from Edinburgh when their connecting flight to Heathrow Terminal 5 was cancelled.

Mr Woodley said he was "ashamed" when he saw TV pictures this weekend of strikers concealing their faces to avoid being identified, continuing: "Willie Walsh seems to forget he is in Britain, not Burma. He talks about respect - he should practice what he preaches."

The union leader said BA had made a "take-it-or-leave-it offer" last Friday, which was worse than one withdrawn during previous talks, adding: "As a leader with 40 years' experience as an industrial negotiator the offer was not, in my judgment and in all honesty, one I could have recommended to myself, never mind you.

"Specifically, it would not have given you the protection you are entitled to expect in respect of the allocation of your routes, destinations and time off and to a degree pay when new fleet comes in, still less your basic pay rates into the future. Additionally, we reached no agreement on dispensation to retain your democratic strike mandate as legally-valid even had we put the offer to a ballot.

"Today, I will be appealing to British Airways at board level to take matters in hand and restart negotiations to reach an agreement which would allow the strike scheduled for next weekend to be averted and put your airline on the road to recovery.

"I know that is what you all want, and it is what the travelling public expect. We have said all along that negotiations, not litigation, intimidation nor confrontation is the way forward.

"BA must understand that capitulation is not on the menu either."

Unite tonight published a so-called "dossier of disgrace", accusing BA of bullying and harassment of union members and officials, and claiming that 38 staff had been suspended or disciplined.

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