Cabin crew announce 20 days of strike action

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The Independent Travel

British Airways cabin crew are to stage a series of five-day strikes in their bitter row over jobs, pay and conditions, threatening travel chaos in the run-up to the summer holidays, it was announced yesterday.

The crews' dispute with the company's management, which began 14 months ago, will now reach a conclusion within four weeks. The Unite union announced 20 days of strikes, spread across late May and early June – including the entire half-term week – which will affect around 2 million passengers.

Cabin crew will walk out on 18-22 May, 24-28 May, 30 May-3 June and 5-9 June. Each strike period will be separated by one day of "normal" work, though union officials believe it will be impossible for the airline to operate normally on these intervening days – making it effectively a 23-day stoppage.

The strike call follows an "online consultation" of cabin crew over the latest BA offer. This was resoundingly rejected by 81 per cent of those who voted, with a turnout of 71 per cent. The basis of the original strike call was to restore cabin crew numbers on long-haul jets to and from Heathrow, which BA had reduced by one or, on some routes, two.

Union members who backed two strikes in March had their staff travel privileges withdrawn; Unite has made it clear that the reinstatement of these must be part of any settlement. But the airline has refused to make concessions on staff travel, or on suspending disciplinary action against some Unite members; last week a senior union official, Duncan Holley, was sacked.

Unite said: "Passengers and investors alike will be dismayed that British Airways' management rejected an approach by the union over the weekend." The union's joint general secretaries, Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, accused the airline of victimising members and of using disciplinary procedures "in a witch-hunt". BA responded with a statement saying it was "saddened but not surprised" by the strike call. The airline also denounced union officials for "showing callous disregard for our customers and their own members".

Flights at Gatwick or London City are expected to operate normally. The airline is preparing an emergency schedule at Heathrow, which is likely to be announced tomorrow or Thursday. BA will deploy aircraft chartered from other carriers for short-haul services, and use "volunteer cabin crew".

"We plan to operate a substantial part of our long-haul schedule and there will be a number of daily flights to every destination across our short-haul network," the airline said.