Passengers must wait for BA strike dates

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The Independent Travel

Union leaders representing thousands of British Airways cabin crew kept the airline waiting for any decisions on strikes today after again holding back from announcing dates for industrial action.

Officials from Unite spent the day locked in internal discussions following the breakdown of talks last night aimed at resolving a long running row over cost cutting.

The collapse of negotiations has brought the threat of strikes closer, but the union made no announcements even though time is now running out for launching a campaign of industrial action.

Union members voted massively in favour of strikes last month, and by law Unite has to announce action by next Monday, giving seven days notice of any walkouts.

A planned 12-day stoppage by 12,500 cabin crew over Christmas was halted after a successful legal challenge from BA, and the union has ruled out striking over Easter.

The two sides held talks under the chairmanship of TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, which broke up without agreement last night, although channels of communication have remained open.

The cabin crew branch of Unite - Bassa - said today it had no wish to cause disruption to BA and its customers and urged the airline's chief executive Willie Walsh to reconsider an offer tabled during this week's talks.

Bassa said the difference between the two sides' cost saving proposals was £10 million, adding that far more than that has already been spent by BA on contingency plans for a strike.

Unite is understood to have put forward a 10-page document which details a series of savings on pay, crew numbers, natural wastage, hotel costs and meal allowances, totalling almost £63 million.

A union source said he believed the offer was "fair, far-reaching and generous" and met BA's financial demands while giving safeguards on pay and conditions to existing crew.

It is believed that under Unite's proposal, BA would reinstate a 15th crew member on long haul flights, something the airline has been strongly resisting.

Unite was understood to be offering a one-year pay freeze, followed by a 2.6% pay cut, then an increase in line with RPI inflation or 2.6%, whichever is higher.

A lump sum bonus worth around £7 million would be paid at the end of year three.

BA said its package would save £62.5 million a year and would not reduce the pay of existing crew.

The airline said the union's proposals fell "significantly short" of this level of savings and would lead to pay cuts of between £1,000 and £2,700 for crew, figures the union disputed.

BA reduced the number of cabin crew on flights under cost-saving measures and Mr Walsh made it clear that the changes would not be reversed.

BA maintains it has 1,000 volunteer staff ready to work as cabin crew in the coming weeks if a strike goes ahead.

Mr Walsh also said that BA would hire 23 fully crewed planes from charter companies to help run flights from Heathrow in the event of industrial action.

Mr Walsh said he did not want a strike to go ahead, adding that he was willing to talk to unions about any concerns cabin crew workers raised. But he stressed that changes made to onboard crew members would not be reversed.

Flights from London's City Airport, including long-haul services to New York, would operate normally in the event of a strike, while 70% of cabin crew would work at Gatwick, meaning all long-haul and 50% of short-haul flights would not be affected, he said.

No specific details were given about flights from Heathrow if a strike went ahead, but Mr Walsh said a "substantial" number of long and short-haul services would still operate.