Virgin in talks to head off summer strike

Virgin in talks to head off summer strike

Virgin Atlantic and pilots’ union Balpa moved closer to a deal on pay this week after pilots voted 97% in favour of a strike.

Travel Weekly understands talks resumed on Tuesday June 28. The stakes are high, being so close to the school summer holidays, and it is believed pilots are ready to ground the airline for almost a month.

Neither Balpa nor Virgin Atlantic would confirm the talks, but a source said: “Both sides hope to settle.”

A breakdown in negotiations would see Balpa announce strike dates likely to begin in the week of July 11, or at the latest by July 18. Balpa represents about 640 of the carrier’s 750 pilots.

Virgin Atlantic plans to operate part of its schedule through any strike, using a combination of management-level pilots and crew hired from other carriers.

However, it is believed strikes might follow the process set by British Airways cabin crew, with action taken in blocks of up to five days with only two days before the next strike – making it impossible to reposition aircraft or crew.

Airline president Sir Richard Branson earlier rejected Balpa’s plea to step in to settle the dispute, saying he would meet with pilots but not their union. Branson said: “We are already losing business from this and are in danger of losing more money if the uncertainty lasts.”

He described the airline’s pay offer to the pilots as “fair – possibly a little too fair”.

The carrier has offered pilots a 4% rise this year and 3% in each of the next two years after three years of pay freeze. Balpa argues that, given the inflation rate, this amounts to “six years of pay cuts”.

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