LONDON – The union representing cabin crew at British Airways PLC Sunday said it would postpone a ballot on further strike action to consider a new offer from the airline, but union leaders warned BA could still face industrial action starting mid-August.
BA tabled a fresh offer Friday aimed at ending the lengthy dispute with the Unite union, which has so far cost it over GBP150 million. The latest offer included two changes which address cabin crew concerns about their future earnings.
Unite had planned to ballot cabin crew members Tuesday over a new round of strikes, but Unite Joint General Secretary Tony Woodley said the union has “no choice but to delay our vote in order to allow our members to consult on the offer.”
BA has made it clear that the latest offer is its final proposal and would be withdrawn if the ballot process had started Tuesday, Woodley said.
Woodley said it would be “inexplicable” if it didn’t put the offer to members and will meet with representatives Monday to discuss that course of action, although he said he won’t be recommending the offer because the airline still hasn’t agreed to return travel perks that it took from some staff during previous strike action.
“The fact that staff travel arrangements have not been restored to thousands of crew prevents this offer from BA being the breakthrough everyone seeks,” Woodley said.
A consultative ballot on BA’s new proposal could begin this week, Unite said.
However, if members reject BA’s latest offer, then Woodley said the airline could face new strikes and “serious disruption” over the peak summer travel period, starting as early as the second week of August.
“Our members have not been defeated and still stand strong,” he said.
A spokeswoman for BA said the airline welcomed Unite’s move, saying, “we believe our offer is fair and reasonable and provides a genuine opportunity to end this dispute.”
BA said it plans to fly 100% of its longhaul operations and a substantial part of its shorthaul operations during any further strike phase.
The airline has offered to reinstate perks, BA has said, but only at a cost of seniority for those involved in strikes. The union doesn’t accept that condition.
Woodley said that attaching conditions to returning the travel perks was a “vindictive” move by BA’s Chief Executive Willie Walsh, adding there will “never be peace at this company,” even if this proposal is accepted, because there will still be disgruntled staff until travel issues are fully resolved.
Travel perks allow staff to travel at a discount and are used by some staff to live elsewhere in the U.K. and then fly into London to start work.
BA and Unite have been in talks for nearly 17 months over working conditions, without coming to a deal. The loss-making airline, which reduced the number of cabin crew used to staff long-haul flights from Heathrow as part of a cost cutting plan, has already been hit by 22 days of strikes since March that cost at least GBP154 million in leasing planes with pilots and cabin crew from other airlines and refunding fares for cancelled flights.
Woodley estimated 1.25 million bookings had been lost compared to this time last year as a result of both sides not being able to come to a deal.
However, the position of cabin crew has weakened as the dispute has continued, with BA better able to manage it’s flying programme by using trained volunteers to crew its flights or hire planes and crew from other airlines. Last week, BA launched a recruitment drive at London’s Heathrow Airport to hire some 1,250 cabin crew on lower salaries than its current crew at the airport.
BA’s latest offer includes giving top-up pay to existing cabin crew to guarantee they won’t lose out on route allowances when newly recruited cabin crew begin flying in the autumn. That means all crew will get a guaranteed minimum amount of variable pay, irrespective of the routes they fly.
BA also withdrew its offer to increase staffing levels on some flights, which would have been funded by a lower allowance level.