For the fourth time in two years, cabin crew employed by British Airways have voted resoundingly to strike.
Members of the Unite union voted 5-1 in favour of more industrial action, on a turn-out of 72 per cent. Unite has yet to announce strike dates, but industrial action could potentially disrupt the Easter holidays. A week's notice must be given before a strike begins, and any industrial action must start by 25 April – four days before the royal wedding.
The dispute between the airline and its cabin crew has dragged on since 2009. Cabin crew walked out for a total of 22 days last year, grounding hundreds of flights and costing the airline an estimated £150m.
Besides the direct financial hit, BA has lost millions more to other airlines as passengers switch away because of uncertainty over future strikes. Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and foreign airlines such as Air France, Lufthansa and Emirates have all benefited from the long and bitter conflict.
Originally the dispute centred on the imposition of new rosters by British Airways management. Those issues have now been resolved. But during the dispute, thousands of members of cabin crew lost their staff travel privileges, and a number of union members were disciplined by the airline.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, said the vote showed that "cabin crew remain determined to win justice". He called on the BA board to "think again about how to regain the trust and confidence of a significant part of their cabin crew operation".
BA replied with a statement saying: "We began talks with Unite earlier this month, and those talks are continuing. We hope they will bring an end to this dispute, which is what the overwhelming majority of our cabin crew want."
The airline says it employs 13,500 cabin crew; of these, 5,811 voted in favour of a strike – representing 43 per cent of the total workforce. A majority of cabin crew are likely to work through any future stoppage, and BA has built up a shadow workforce from volunteers elsewhere in the airline to cover for the strikers.
The airline's new chief executive, Keith Williams, has promised that, in the event of a strike, BA will operate all its long-haul flights from Heathrow, as well as a normal schedule from Gatwick and London City.
It will also operate "a substantial proportion" of its European flights. But Mr McCluskey has dismissed Mr Williams's confidence, saying: "He has no way of knowing what weird and wondrous initiatives we might take should we engage in industrial action."
BA's dispute with its cabin crew is easily the most protracted dispute in UK aviation history. In October, a deal was agreed between the airline's then-chief executive, Willie Walsh, and Unite's then-joint general secretary, Tony Woodley. They agreed to put an offer on restoring staff travel and disciplinaries to a vote.
But cabin crew were never given the chance to vote on the agreement, which was scuppered by officials from the union branches.Reuse content