Virgin Atlantic yesterday vowed to keep its fleet flying in the face of threatened industrial action by a union which claims to represent almost three quarters of its pilots.
The airline was responding to the Professional Pilots Union balloting for action the issue of union recognition.
PPU, which says it represents 70% of pilots within Virgin Atlantic, has been involved in negotiations to secure this recognition with the carrier for almost two years but says there has been “little progress”.
The ballot is for action short of a strike, which may involve a work-to-rule and refusal to work overtime.
Any action is likely to take place seven days after the ballot closes and the company has been notified – around August 24 – and may continue indefinitely thereafter, the PPU warned.
A statement from the airline said: “We proactively work with our recognised unions, Balpa and Unite, in a professional and constructive relationship.
“We have received notification from an unrecognised union representing some of our pilots with its intention to ballot for industrial action, which we believe to be a ‘work to rule’.
“We value our pilot workforce enormously and have offered to have dialogue with the unrecognised union. We like to reassure customers that all Virgin Atlantic flights continue to operate as normal.”
While the PPU says it represents the majority of pilots within the workforce, Virgin Atlantic has a voluntary recognition agreement with the British Airline Pilots Association.
“Because of this, a loophole in the law means that even if a union represents no members at all, no other union can pursue statutory recognition,” according to the PPU.
The PPU membership have stated via two separate ballots that they wish Virgin Atlantic to formally recognise the PPU with a sole voluntary agreement.
A consultative ballot held by the union in June saw 96% of members on a 90% turnout, vote in favour of a further ballot for industrial action.
A PPU spokesman said: “We are in the astonishing position where the majority of the pilot workforce at Virgin Atlantic is being represented by a union – Balpa – with only a very small number of members within the company.
“At a time when democracy has never been higher on the agenda, the democratic wishes of our pilots are simply being ignored.
“Although the PPU has been given verbal assurances from the company’s management, the reality is that after nearly two years of fruitless negotiations, a resolution to the issue of union recognition is as far away as ever.
“Talks have continually stalled and Virgin Atlantic will not commit to any tangible time-scale to re-engage in discussions, let alone reach agreement.
“With the company failing to attend even recent de-escalation talks with ACAS, the PPU finds itself in the regrettable position of having to follow the mandate of its members and ballot for industrial action in pursuit of timely and appropriate union recognition.”
The PPU was established following “overwhelming demand” from VAA pilots, after failed negotiations by Balpa in 2011.
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