Union welcomes BA deal that avoids humiliation

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The deal between British Airways and Unite seems certain to end an 18-month confrontation that involved four strike ballots, three legal battles and much angry rhetoric.

In the course of it, Willie Walsh, the former BA chief executive, accused Unite of being “out of touch with reality”, while the union complained of a “climate of fear” at the airline.

That, coupled with dozens of suspensions and sackings during the dispute, will leave a legacy.

But there was relief among Unite’s cabin crew members on Thursday that a formula had been found to end the dispute without more humiliation.

The battle began in October 2009 when BA announced plans to cut 1,700 full-time cabin crew jobs and freeze pay.

Union officials accused the company of “holding a gun” to the heads of staff and in December that year, cabin crew announced a 12-day strike over Christmas after a 9-1 vote in favour of industrial action.

However, the High Court ruled that the strike could not go ahead because Unite had balloted hundreds of members who had subsequently left the company.

It was in March last year that the first three-day strike began after a second ballot.

There were 22 days of strikes in total last spring, costing the airline an estimated £150m but BA managed to keep most of its customers flying.

Some blamed Mr Walsh’s intransigence for prolonging the dispute but analysts praised him for preparing well.

The airline had enough cash to fight a long battle and used a volunteer workforce, as well as aircraft hired from other airlines, to keep flights going.

The two aides came close to agreement last autumn, but it was rejected by Bassa, Unite’s main cabin crew branch. Mr Walsh said Unite had a “dysfunctional” relationship with Bassa, which operates largely autonomously.

The breakthrough came after Keith Williams succeeded Mr Walsh and Unite elected Len McCluskey to succeed former leaders Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson. This time, crucially, Bassa’s leaders took part in the talks.

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