(TVLW) – Airline passengers are facing the threat of a wave of strikes in the New Year because of union disputes over pay and pensions.
More than 3,000 cabin crew working for Virgin Atlantic have started balloting on industrial action in a wages dispute.
The result of the ballot, being conducted by Unite – the union formed following the merger of the TGWU and Amicus – will be announced on Dec 20.
If the Virgin crew vote for industrial action, a stoppage would be most likely to take place in January and could coincide with another proposed walkout by the 5,000 Unite members working for airport operators BAA.
They have threatened industrial action in protest at plans to axe the company’s final salary pension scheme for new staff.
Should the 5,000 Unite members back a strike call, several of the country’s major airports including Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick, would be crippled.
A stoppage by key workers, including firefighters and security staff, would hit the travel plans of around 1 million passengers.
With the law requiring employers to be given seven days notice, any industrial action would be unlikely until the New Year.
While the BAA dispute has been rumbling for some time, the Virgin dispute has erupted despite union negotiations and the airline agreeing a three-year pay deal in August.
Brian Boyd, national officer for Unite, wrote to members urging them to accept the deal.
Despite his “strong recommendation” that the union members rubberstamp the deal, it was rejected by the cabin crew in a consultative ballot in the autumn.
The deal included a 4.8 per cent pay rise in the first year and a number of other increases as well.
As a result Mr Boyd found himself having to disown the deal he negotiated.
“Our members do a professional and responsible job for one of the country’s highest regarded airline and their pay should reflect this,” he said.
“At the moment Virgin Atlantic’s cabin crew earnings are far less than their comparators on the main business routes at British Airways and clearly this is no longer acceptable to our members.
“Unite has done everything we can to avoid this situation but we have been left with no alternative but to ballot for strike action in an effort to get the company’s to recognise our member’s contribution to the company’s continued success.”
However Virgin Atlantic, which sought to reassure passengers that Christmas flights would not be affected, said only 1,200 cabin crew had voted against the deal.
“The pay offer reflects the huge contribution that our cabin crew make to the airline’s success and we have been told by Unite that it is the best to be offered by an airline this year,” said Lyell Strambi, Virgin’s chief operating officer.
“Our cabin crew have also benefited from pay increases of between 20 and 30 per cent over the last four years.”