Union plans summer of discontent

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The Government is facing its first major industrial conflict after leaders of 9,000 cabin crew at British Airways decided to press ahead with a three- day strike expected to begin next Wednesday.

If the action goes ahead, all BA services using Heathrow will be affected together with all intercontinental flights from Gatwick, although the airline will attempt to operate as many services as it can with the help of non-strikers and staff on short-term contracts.

While cabin crew leaders decided to go ahead with industrial action, representatives of 9,000 ground staff opted to suspend a decision on stoppages for 48 hours pending talks with management.

If negotiations involving BA's airport workers break down, they may decide to walk out for 24 hours on 11 July to coincide with the third day of the cabin crew stoppage.

In a telephone conversation with Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Bob Ayling the airline's chief executive, agreed to address the grievances of ground staff. According to the union, however, he registered no enthusiasm to discuss the cabin crews' grievances.

Management later however professed "amazement" at the union's decision to call the strike. A spokesman said that Mr Ayling had agreed to outside conciliation on the issue as requested by Mr Morris.

The company is prepared to negotiate on the terms and conditions of 1,400 staff who work for the airline's catering division which is to be sold off. Many catering staff have families on the Indian Sub-Continent and may respond to improved assurances of subsidised travel when the subsidiary is sold.

Mr Morris agreed to suspended a decision over a strike by ground staff, which is threatened in protest at the sell off, but authorised the 3-day stoppage by cabin crew.

The transport union leader said he would appeal to Mr Ayling to negotiate on both disputes. Mr Morris said that the airline's chief executive, however, made it clear that he was only prepared to address the concerns of ground staff.

He accused Mr Ayling of turning a "deaf ear" to common sense and called on BA to negotiate a settlement of the cabin crew's dispute.

Mr Ayling said there had been a "breakdown in communications" at the union. He contended that Mr Morris had given him until the end of yesterday to respond to the union's arguments. The T&G had nevertheless authorised action before the deadline, he said.

The BA chief executive said that the suggestion of involving an outside "facilitator" was a good one. Later last night a union spokesman commented "Why don't they just speak to the union?"