In a provocative move, the airline unilaterally announced the changes without any agreement from Unite, the union that represents the airline’s 14,000 cabin crew.
That was despite months of negotiations between the two sides, including recent talks between Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, and Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint-general secretary. BA made its announcement while Mr Woodley was on a flight and unable to receive messages.
A Unite spokesman said no decision had been taken on a strike ballot, but indicated that feelings were running high.
“BA’s actions indicate that they are not interested in compromise and prefer conflict,” she said. “It would be fair to deduce that this brings a strike closer because they are imposing changes.”
BA, which lost £401m pre-tax last year, said changes were vital because the airline is “not profitable and we expect to record a significant loss for the second consecutive year – the first time that has happened in our history”.
The airline, which has been targeting 2,000 job cuts among cabin crew, said 1,000 staff had told the airline that they wanted to take voluntary redundancy, while another 3,000 would like to switch to part-time – together equivalent to 1,700 full-time jobs.
“To facilitate these requests, we must make changes to the way crew work,” BA said, noting it had been “talking to the cabin crew unions since the start of the year, but had made little progress on the contribution they might make”.
The main change is to cut the number of crew on BA’s 57 Boeing 747 aircraft from 15 to 14. BA said it could do this without reducing service levels by requiring the customer services director – the most senior crew member who currently has a supervisory role – to start serving passengers.
BA claimed such changes, due to take place from November 16, “will not alter contractual terms and conditions for individual crew members”.
The claim inflamed staff, however. One cabin crew employee said: “We had a union meeting on Monday and the general consensus was we have had enough. We can’t take any more of the negative management, bullying and harassment we get. We are ready to go on strike.”
Given the necessary consultation periods, any strike would be likely to coincide with Christmas.
The employee claimed BA wanted widespread changes to working practices, including reducing days off during stopovers and after long-haul flights.
Some industry experts were broadly sympathetic to BA, however. John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting, said: “There’s got to be change. I can understand anyone’s fear of change but sometimes it is necessary for long-term job security – especially given the competition from rivals like low-cost carriers.”
While BA has agreed a deal with its pilots and engineers, it is still negotiating changes with its 4,000 ground workers and 8,000 check-in and administrative staff.