Strikes leave passengers grounded – but insults fly between BA and Unite

Willie Walsh 'shocked' at union boss's Twitter updates during talks

Dozens of flights from Heathrow were cancelled yesterday as members of British Airways cabin crew set up picket lines outside the airport as part of their long running dispute with the airline.

BA bosses claimed to be pleased by the numbers of staff who turned up to work despite the strike, although they could not say whether any of those working were members of Unite, the union involved. Announcements on the airline's own website showed that at least 133 scheduled flights were cancelled.

Yesterday was the first day of four five-day stoppages planned by the union. The strikers, who are members of the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa), a branch of Unite, set up headquarters at 8am at the Bedfont football ground near Heathrow.

They were due for a morale-boosting visit from Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, joint general secretaries of Unite – but ironically the union leaders had to postpone for a day because of "travel difficulties".

Meanwhile, a furious argument raged on the internet about the revelation over the weekend that Mr Simpson, an old-style union organiser who is close to retirement age, is now an ardent user of Twitter.

His messages on the site have been blamed for giving away the fact that the union and BA management were in talks over the weekend, which were then forced to break up when about 200 demonstrators waving banners provided by the far-left Socialist Workers Party barged into the offices of the conciliation service Acas on the 23rd floor of Euston Tower and surrounded BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh.

Mr Walsh said he was "shocked and angry" to learn that Mr Simpson had been posting messages online while they talked. Mr Woodley, in what some interpreted as a rebuke for his fellow general secretary, said yesterday that the invasion had had a "catastrophic" impact on negotiations.

Mr Simpson spent much of yesterday answering Twitter messages from angry members of the public – and from his union. One said: "You were in confidential talks, you moron. Confidential! Resign now." Another called him a "mindless" and "intellectually challenged". Eventually Mr Simpson wrote: "OK folks, no more reacting to bad tweeters, made my point."

The dispute began when BA – which recently announced a pre-tax loss of £531m for last year – said that it wanted to reduce its number of full-time cabin crew by 1,700 out of about 13,400, by taking 1,000 voluntary redundancies and making hundreds of full-time staff part-time.

When Unite cabin crew staged a strike in February, BA cancelled their travel perks and sacked seven employees for matters of discipline. They included Duncan Holley, the leader of Bassa, who has continued to speak for the strikers in public, although he is not now employed by the airline.

Since then, Mr Walsh has pursued what the union has called a "divide and rule" tactic, blaming the trouble on Mr Holley and other militant shop stewards and appealing to Unite's national leadership to get them under control.

He has offered to restore lost travel perks when the dispute is settled, but not on the old terms. The union is demanding full restoration of those perks and the cancellation of what it calls "vindictive" disciplinary measures imposed by the company.

Last night, BA said "keep the flag flying" was being painted along the fuselages of its aircraft to underline the message that it will continue to fly during the strikes. The message is being daubed on 10 Boeing 777s at Heathrow and two at Gatwick.

The airline said in a statement: "Our operations around the world have got off to a good start. The numbers of cabin crew reporting at Heathrow are currently at the levels we need to operate our published schedule."

Four out of eight scheduled flights to Paris, four out of seven to Munich, two of 13 flights to Madrid and two out of four to Athens were among yesterday's casualties.

Two out of seven flights to Nice, three out of seven to Barcelona, one of four to Lisbon, two of three to Warsaw in Poland, one of three to Moscow, one of three to Istanbul and four of seven to Munich were also cancelled.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'