BA and Unite renew hostilities as cabin crew reject pay offer

Unite has lost the "moral authority" to represent the views of its members, British Airways claimed yesterday, after cabin crew rejected what the airline had described as its final offer of a new pay deal.

The union, which represents 90 per cent of BA's 12,000 cabin crew, said 67 per cent of its members had rejected the offer. Unite said yesterday it would now meet cabin crew representatives to discuss the next step. Unite said that 3,419 members voted to reject the airline's offer of a 2.9 per cent rise next year with a 3 per cent rise the year after, while 1,686 voted in favour of the proposals. About 11,000 were balloted.

Despite the result there was some good news for chief executive Willie Walsh yesterday after it was announced that BA, Iberia and American Airlines had received approval from the US Department of Transportation to operate a joint business on transatlantic flights.

The airlines plan to launch the operation this autumn and will co-operate commercially on flights between the EU, Switzerland and Norway and the US, Canada and Mexico after the DoT gave them immunity from anti-trust rules. Mr Walsh said: "This final approval is fantastic news for all three airlines and the oneworld alliance."

But Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic, said millions of passengers on both sides of the Atlantic would suffer the consequences of the "monster monopoly", and that it was "a bad day for consumers".

The decision was a rare piece of good news for BA, which has lost more than £150m as a result of the bitter dispute with its cabin crew. The company tried to emphasise the positives in yesterday's ballot result, drawing attention to the turnout figures for the strike. "We are encouraged by the result of this ballot which shows that 73 per cent of our cabin crew did not reject our offer. With only around a quarter of our cabin crew voting against the deal, support for Unite is ebbing away," the airline said.

But Unite said that just 15 per cent of cabin crew had backed the proposals. Tony Woodley, Unite's joint general secretary, added: "Willie Walsh's attempt to browbeat his employees into accepting his deal has failed miserably."

The latest vote is likely to move the union towards a strike ballot, which could result in more industrial action – cabin crew have taken 22 days of strike action since March.

The dispute started last year over BA's plans to cut costs by reducing the number of cabin crew on aircraft, and intensified after the airline withdrew travel concessions from staff that went on strike. The offer dismissed yesterday had included a promise not to discriminate against staff that had been on strike, and to reinstate a number benefits that had been removed from those involved in the walkouts.

Relations worsened after BA took disciplinary action against union members following the dispute, including a number of sackings. Unite said two of its members were dismissed last week.

Unite postponed a strike ballot last month after BA tabled the new offer, but the union's leadership decided against making any recommendation on whether it should be accepted.

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