Pilots at Virgin Atlantic have voted overwhelmingly to strike and appear poised to walk out for the first time next month in a series of strikes that could run into the school holiday.
A total of 97% of union members voted in favour of the walk-out.
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) is poised to announce the first strike dates, with the first walk-outs likely in the week of July 11. The union called for airline president Sir Richard Branson to intervene, with a spokesman saying: “We’ve gone as far as we can with the management.”
The pilots are likely to follow the example of British Airways cabin crew who took action in blocks of up to five days with one or two days in between, leaving barely enough time to reposition aircraft.
Balpa represents about 640 of Virgin Atlantic’s 750 pilots, and such a strategy would cause maximum disruption. Virgin flies solely long-haul routes and could be forced to cancel flights in advance of strikes to avoid having aircraft stranded.
It is unclear what preparations, if any, Virgin has made for a strike. Branson said this week: “I am sure we will get it sorted.” Virgin chief executive Steve Ridgway said:
“Everybody is clear we need an agreement. Both sides are motivated to get a resolution. We hoped to have reached an agreement by now.”
However, Balpa insisted only a substantially improved pay offer would head off anger among members following a three-year pay freeze.
Virgin Atlantic has offered pilots a pay rise of 4% this year and 3% in 2012 and 2013. Balpa points out the proposed increases are below the current rate of inflation. A spokesman said: “It means six years of pay cuts.”
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