BA cabin crew to ballot on deal ending two year battle

BA cabin crew to ballot on deal ending two year battle

Union members among British Airways cabin crew will ballot on a deal to end their long-running dispute following a mass meeting on Thursday.

BA and union Unite reached an agreement on ending the dispute that will restore travel concessions to staff who went on strike last year and see disciplinary cases referred to arbitration service Acas.

The airline also agreed a two-year pay deal for cabin crew, tied to productivity changes but worth up to 4% this year and 3.5% next. Full details have yet to be released, but the deal was accepted in principle by up to 1,000 cabin crew at Thursday’s meeting.

It will go to a ballot of Unite’s 10,000 cabin crew members over the next month, with a “strong recommendation” from the union to accept.

A BA spokesman said: “We are very pleased the threat of industrial action has been lifted and we can put this dispute behind us.

“Our agreement involves acknowledgement by the union that the cost-saving structural changes we have made in cabin crew operations are permanent. We have also agreed changes that will modernise our crew industrial relations and help ensure this kind of dispute cannot occur again.”

The dispute over changes to crew work practices and staffing levels on flights out of Heathrow began in 2009. Cabin crew first balloted to strike around Christmas that year, only to see BA win a court injunction preventing a stoppage.

However, BA failed to halt a sustained campaign of industrial action in 2010 which saw 22 days of strikes in March, May and June, costing the airline £150 million and at one point cutting its monthly passenger traffic by 400,000.

The airline enforced a threat to withdraw travel concessions from strikers and disciplined a number of Unite members for alleged offences, leading to growing bitterness among union members.

At the same time, BA boss Willie Walsh set up a strike-breaking force drawn from staff across the airline and began recruiting a new ‘mixed crew’ contingent on different terms and conditions to work out of Heathrow. This crew will soon number 1,000. The airline also had no difficulty maintaining full operations to and from Gatwick and London City throughout the dispute. 

The opposing sides reached agreement on the original points of conflict last autumn, but a provisional deal agreed by Walsh and Unite leader Tony Woodley was rejected by cabin crew representatives – provoking bitter condemnation by BA.

Two further ballots produced fresh votes for strikes, provoking another legal challenge from BA. However, the mood of confrontation began to soften after both sides underwent a change of leadership at the end of last year. Walsh stepped up to become chief executive of the new International Airlines Group, formed from the merger of BA and Iberia, and was replaced by Keith Williams. Len McCluskey took over as general secretary of Unite.

McCluskey said: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement which recognises the rights and dignity of cabin crew as well as the commercial requirements of the company. I am particularly pleased that staff travel concessions will be restored in full.”

He added: “We always said this dispute could only be settled by negotiation.”


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