October 26, 2009 4:01 pm

BA cabin crew to vote on strike action

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British Airways vowed on Monday to press ahead with cost-cutting plans after the Unite union decided to ballot 14,000 cabin crew on industrial action over new contracts.

The airline intends to cut the equivalent of 1,700 cabin crew jobs, reduce the number of crew on some flights and reduce pay for future recruits.

“BA management’s determination to impose unacceptable contractual changes on cabin crew leaves us no alternative,” said Derek Simpson, Unite’s joint general secretary. “Negotiation, not imposition, is the only proper way to conduct industrial relations.”

BA said it was “disappointed” by the ballot but the changes would go ahead from November 16 as planned. “Our current cabin crew remain the best paid in the country by some way,” it said.

There would be no change to the individual terms and conditions of the current crew, who would not take a pay cut, the airline said. It added: “In fact some 75 per cent of crew will receive a pay scale increase worth between 2 per cent and 7 per cent this year and again next year.”

BA expects to report a “significant loss” this year – the first time in its history it will have suffered two consecutive years of losses.

It says the changes are essential to its survival. In common with most airlines, it has been hit by falling passenger numbers in the recession as well as the volatility of fuel prices.

The job cuts are part of a total of 3,700 posts to be axed over the next year, in addition to a reduction of around 2,500 achieved between June and March 2009.

Cabin crew had already decided to hold an emergency meeting next Monday to decide whether to fight the changes, which Unite said were a “fundamental attack” on jobs, wages and career prospects.

Two former sections of the Transport and General Workers Union – Bassa and Cabin Crew 89 – have joined forces for the first time in more than 20 years to hold the joint meeting at Sandown Racecourse in Surrey.

Average salaries of BA’s cabin attendants are £29,900, more than double those at Virgin, and well above EasyJet’s £20,200. On a number of international flights, BA has two more crew than Virgin.

BA said: “Our changes in onboard crew numbers allow us to accept a large number of requests for a range of voluntary options, including voluntary redundancy, a switch to part-time working and a transfer between fleets. We are now also able to offer crew promotion opportunities for the first time in three years.”

BA’s pilots agreed to pay cuts and other measures this year in separate negotiations that amount to annual savings of £26m – but insist the deal is dependent on other groups such as cabin crew taking their share of pain as well.

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