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BA accused over 'strike-breaker' training plans

British Airways was today accused of trying to rush through a "handful" of workers to try to break any strike by cabin crew involved in a bitter row over jobs, pay and conditions.

Unite, which today started reballoting thousands of its members on industrial action, said the airline had started training just 216 employees to fill in for strikers.

The union said the airline had the support of the Civil Aviation Authority for its plan to train other staff to take the place of cabin crew in the event of a walkout.

Officials claimed that BA was going to "astonishing" lengths to try to "smash" its 13,500 cabin crew.

Len McCluskey, Unite's assistant general secretary, said: "British Airways needs to get real. Even if it pulls out all the stops between now and February, it is still only going to train 216 strike breakers. With a cabin crew of 13,500 does BA seriously think this handful of inexperienced individuals will be able to operate a service?

"BA would be far better channelling its energies into negotiation than pursuing cynical schemes to break its own skilled and professional workforce."

Unite said it understood that BA planned to run nine training courses for strike breakers, beginning today and concluding with a course on February 6, with half of them dedicated to pilots.

One course will cover those who come from other departments within BA but have expired licences to fly, with the firm assuring these workers that it will ensure their flying licences are restored, it was claimed.

Unite said strike breakers will have only four days training covering basic medical training, fire security and knowledge of the aircraft.

Around 120 pilots were planning to cover for striking cabin crew and will still be paid their pilots' salaries, Unite claimed.

Mr McCluskey continued: "There are many serious questions about its strike-breaking effort which BA must answer. How can they guarantee that expired licences to fly will be restored in just a few short weeks? Why are strike breakers being provided with only a few days training, and why pay highly-waged pilots to strike break when BA should be working on finding a solution to this dispute?

"Unite also regards it as extremely concerning that an employer can co-opt a regulator into its efforts to break its workforce. The CAA's duty to this country and its taxpayers is to ensure our aviation sector upholds the highest standards. It is not to conspire in the provision of half-baked courses for wannabe cabin crew."

Members of Unite voted last year to take industrial action and were due to launch a 14-day walkout over Christmas before the airline took legal action to stop the strike.

The new ballot will close on February 22, raising the threat of action from March 1, although the union has ruled out any stoppages over Easter.

Unite has warned the pilots' union Balpa that it was not acceptable for it to take a "neutral" stance over its members being used as possible strike-breakers.

BA declined to comment on Unite's claims.